Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

New Zealand's Greatest Olympians - Number 12: Ian Ferguson

We're counting down New Zealand's 25 greatest Olympians. Today, kayaker Ian Ferguson.

Gold: K-1 500m, Los Angeles, 1984
Gold: K-2 500m, Los Angeles, 1984
Gold: K-4 1000m, Los Angeles, 1984
Gold: K-2 500m, Seoul, 1988
Silver: K-2 1000m, Seoul, 1988

Many Olympians joke about keeping their medals in a sock drawer. Ian Ferguson would almost need a wardrobe to house his.

In a four-year period between 1984 and 1988, the kayaker set records that may never be broken.

He was New Zealand's first - and to this day only - triple gold medallist at a single Games and no other Kiwi has equalled his career tally of four golds.

Ferguson won five medals in total (a mark matched only by team-mate Paul MacDonald among New Zealanders) and was the first Kiwi to win two golds on a single day.

His feats, along with those of MacDonald, Alan Thompson and Grant Bramwell, were the cornerstone of a remarkable Los Angeles Olympiad for New Zealand, which yielded eight golds in total.

Alongside MacDonald, Ferguson took two more medals in 1988 (gold and silver).

The way they won made for captivating viewing. There was Ferguson overhauling the opposition in the last 50m of the K-1 500m in Los Angeles, then combining with MacDonald to destroy the field in the K-2 500m.

The most thrilling race came four years later in Seoul, when Ferguson and MacDonald were caught and passed by the young Soviet crew in the latter stages of the K-2 500m, only to find something extra in the last few strokes and pip the Europeans by less than a fifth of a second.

The 1984 kayaking field was admittedly weakened by the Eastern Bloc boycott, but Ferguson is adamant that didn't affect the results.

"We'd raced them all in Europe beforehand, the Russians and the East Germans, and we'd beaten them already," he said in Our Olympic Century. "So we were quite confident we were going to win."

Ferguson's longevity was remarkable. He first went to the Olympics in 1976 as a 24 year-old, reaching the semifinals of the K-1 500m in Montreal.

Ferguson was one of only four New Zealand athletes to attend the 1980 Moscow Olympics (defying a government boycott) and finished eighth in the K-1 1000m final.

In Los Angeles, Ferguson, the pre-race favourite, won the K-1 500m with a strong finishing burst.

Ninety minutes later - after the emotion of victory and hearing God Defend New Zealand on the medal dais - he returned to the waters of Lake Casitas to win the K-2 500m alongside MacDonald, before being part of the K-4 1000m triumph the next day.

Ferguson was aged 36 in Seoul, but still good enough to claim gold and silver alongside MacDonald before his swansong in Barcelona, where he was eighth in the K-2 1000m final.

He also won two world championships and finished runner-up in three more.

Ferguson was also a highly accomplished surf lifesaver, winning a swag of national titles and served as national kayaking coach for a period during the last decade.

Biography: Ian Ferguson

* Attended five Olympics: 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988 & 1992
* Won a New Zealand record four golds and one silver
* First Kiwi to win two golds in single day
* Was 40-years-old at his last Games
* Received the Halberg Award in 1984 and was inducted into NZ Sports Hall of fame in 2003

How we did it

This list was drawn up by expert Herald and Radio Sport journalists from our team covering the Rio Olympics.

It wasn't easy, partly because of the number of fantastic feats over the last century or so and partly because of the difficulty of comparing performances across sports and eras.

The first ground rule was that only gold medallists would be considered. That was tough considering the likes of Nick Willis (silver, 2008), Dick Quax (silver, 1976), Paul Kingsman (bronze, 1988) and Bevan Docherty (silver and bronze, 2004 & 2008) provided some of our most memorable Olympic moments.

We also agreed potential success in Rio wouldn't be taken into account. The list was also restricted to the Summer Olympics, otherwise Annelise Coberger, our only Winter Olympics medallist may have featured quite prominently.

Each member of the panel wrote their own list before we came together to thrash it out five at a time. It was a head-scratcher, but in a good way because it was a celebration of success.

List so far

No 25: Alan Thompson
No 24: Norman Read
No 23: Ted Morgan

No 22: Sir Russell Coutts
No 21: Paul MacDonald
No 20: Hamish Bond and Eric Murray
No 19: Rob Waddell
No 18: Bruce Kendall
No 17: Mahe Drysdale

No 16: Hamish Carter
No 15: Sir Murray Halberg
No 14: The 1976 men's hockey team
No 13: Sir John Walker

- NZ Herald

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