In the lead up to the Rio games, NZ On Screen’s Nicky Harrop selects some classic TV and film on our most legendary Olympians.

In preparation for an upcoming screen sport marathon, it seems only fitting to recommend some warm-up material.

The following stories feature 50 years of Kiwi Olympians, sharing details of their challenges, triumphs and post-gold lives.


Jack Lovelock took New Zealand's first Olympic athletics gold medal in spectacular fashion, winning the 1500m at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in front of Hitler and over 110,000 spectators. Short film Lovelock contrasts the high of the race with his mysterious and tragic death, struck by a New York subway train 13 years later, aged just 39.

New Zealanders for the Olympics

This vintage National Film Unit newsreel meets the seven-strong NZ Olympic team, as they prepare to depart (by boat) for the 1948 London games. Each of the members are interviewed, highlighting an era when athletes had day jobs, training was "several hours a day" and swimsuits looked more like impediments than performance aids. Despite the enthusiasm of Selwyn Toogood's voiceover, the team failed to win any medals.


Peter Snell - Athlete

Another NFU classic, Peter Snell - Athlete tells the runner's story in his own words, retracing the steps to his triumph at the 1964 Tokyo games. Snell's commentary plays over key race and training footage - including some great shots of him running through Auckland's Waiatarua hills. The recently controversial black singlet gets a mention too, with Snell claiming a "feeling of exhilaration" when running in it.

The Glow of Gold

The Glow of Gold recaps Kiwi Olympic success in the lead up to the 1968 Mexico games. Along with Lovelock and Snell, runner Murray Halberg is profiled, and there is triumphant footage of long-jumper Yvette Williams - the first New Zealand woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Athletes filmed training for Mexico include Warren Cole, seen rowing under snow-capped mountains on Lake Rotoiti. Cole would go on to win gold as bow of the Men's Coxed Four.

This is Your Life - John Walker

Champion runner John Walker gets the surprise party treatment, in this 1985 episode of This is Your Life. Host Bob Parker leads him through past career highlights, including his mile world record, the epic 1974 Commonwealth Games 1,500 metres final, and Olympic gold at Montreal in 1976. A week earlier, Walker had become the first person to run 100 sub-four minute miles.

This is Your Life - Mark Todd

The first local subject of This is Your Life was another famous Kiwi Olympian. Ambushed by the show in 1984, Mark Todd's episode was filmed just weeks after he and trusty steed Charisma had won New Zealand's first equestrian gold medal at the Los Angeles games. Guests include Todd's parents (who recall him as a "lovable horror" as a boy) and Captain Mark Phillips (then husband of Princess Anne).

You can see more New Zealand Olympians here, in NZ On Screen's Black Gold Collection