20 NZ Olympic Moments: No. 16, The Sumner duo who opened the door to sailing history

By David Leggat

Herald sports writers Dylan Cleaver and David Leggat will count down 20 Great New Zealand Olympic Moments.

It might have grown a shade in the constant retelling, but suffice to say New Zealand's first Olympic sailing gold medal winners got the news while a couple of bevvies into celebrating a silver medal.

When New Zealand arrived in Melbourne for the 1956 Games, it was competing in the sailing regatta for the first time.

The Sharpie class was not widely established in New Zealand, but in Peter Mander it had a fine technician, who was already a world champion in the 18-footer class.

Mander and crewman Jack Cropp lived a couple of kilometres apart in the oceanside suburb of Sumner.

By the time they arrived in Melbourne they were a well-honed pair and, as soon became apparent, among the favourites for the gold medal.

Eventually it came down to the Kiwis or the Aussies, Rolly Tasker, who died last month, and John Scott.

When the Australians won the final race, it seemed gold was theirs.

However the French crew protested on the grounds of obstruction against Tasker and Scott.

The appeal was upheld and that left the transtasman rivals level on 6086 points.

But Mander and Cropp were awarded the gold as they had won three races to the Aussies' two over the course of the regatta.

When the decision was made, the two New Zealanders, assuming the die had been cast and second place was their lot, were well into their silver celebrations.

The Sharpie was a 12sq m class which lasted just that one Olympic regatta before being discarded - another reason Mander and Cropp's names will remain enshrined in New Zealand sailing folklore.

Eight years later Mander surprised the New Zealand yachting fraternity when, having been lined up as sailing team manager for the Tokyo Olympics, he won the Finn trial, and went to Japan as a competitor instead, finishing fourth.

Along with being renowned for top-class leadership and organisational skills, Mander was an accomplished boat designer, builder and sailmaker in later life.

He had a role in New Zealand's 1987 America's Cup campaign in Fremantle and two years later won the Yachting New Zealand Award of Merit.

Mander and Cropp, whose later life never took him far from the water either, were inducted into New Zealand's Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

The sailing community owes these Christchurch men a debt; they opened the Olympic door for New Zealand sailors.

Since their achievement, New Zealand have won six Olympic sailing gold medals, four silver and five bronze.

- NZ Herald

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