Precious McKenzie was in Whanganui yesterday and said he felt honoured to be invited as a "super senior" to speak at the Grey Power annual meeting.

The gold medal-winning former weightlifter celebrated his 80th birthday on Monday and said it was good to have a birthday on the Queen's anniversary.

"I celebrated my birthday by taking my family on a cruise aboard the Queen Elizabeth II for 28 days - we sailed to China and came back via Vietnam."

McKenzie first captured the hearts of Kiwis in Christchurch in 1974 when he won the Commonwealth Games flyweight weightlifting gold medal for England.


Adored by New Zealand audiences, he was equally enamoured and moved to New Zealand the following year.

"I almost moved to Whanganui," he said yesterday.

"I was asked to consider running the YMCA here and I was taken on a drive around the city. It was beautiful but I was completing my weightlifting trainer qualifications in Auckland and I wanted to train a lot of people."

Although he didn't move to Whanganui, McKenzie spent time working here doing contracts at Tasman Tanning and the NZ Post Office.

The weightlifter also made headlines in 1974 when he posed with heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali perched on his shoulders. At the time Ali weighed 98kg while McKenzie weighed just 56kg.

Born in Durban, South Africa, McKenzie was unable to compete for his country because of the apartheid regime and moved to England in 1964.

He won his first Commonwealth gold medal for England as a bantamweight in 1966, and claimed two further gold medals for England before bringing home gold for New Zealand from the 1978 Edmonton games in Canada when he was 42.

His life has been the subject of a film and a book and in 2006 he was recognised by his native country with an induction into the South African Sports Hall of Fame.

He is now a great grandfather with three children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.