Kaitaia resident Gwenyth Cossey always knew her grandfather, Michael Victor Lindberg, had been involved in swimming sports but had no idea to what degree until earlier this year at a special recognition ceremony organised by the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

Victor was officially recognised at the ceremony as the first New Zealander to compete at an Olympic Games and the first New Zealander to win a gold medal. Victor competed at the Paris Olympics in 1900 as part of the British-based water polo team.

The century-old delay for Victor's recognition may be due to the fact that over the years his name was incorrectly spelt (the 'd' in Lindberg was omitted at the initial Olympic Games and Victor was also incorrectly spelt with a 'k') as well as him being awarded the medal as a member of a British team, and his connection to New Zealand therefore never being noted. The poor record-keeping back in the day could also be to blame.

Present at the June ceremony with Gwenyth were her daughter Helen and fellow Lindberg direct descendants, as well as Mike Stanley (president of the New Zealand Olympic committee), Stephen Donnell (Olympic Games researcher), Tony Ebert (former Olympian weight lifter) and Pip Gould, (herself a Lindberg family member by marriage and also a former Olympian swimmer).


Each of Victor's direct descendants at the presentation was presented with a copy of his certificate and a centenary Olympic pin, which is only given to Olympic athletes.

"I do think it's lovely really," says Gwenyth. "We knew of it but didn't know the significance of it. When you read about all his history, it's impressive. I've learnt a lot about my family through this process."

Helen agrees. "I think it's great. There's a lot of things you don't know about your family. To actually have a little bit more information and knowledge about who they are and where you come from is neat. You feel like you've got more of a connection with the person."

"They were obviously self-motivated" adds Gwenyth. "They didn't have trains and planes back then so to get around to all these events [by boat] would have been difficult. It was a totally different era back then."

Victor, of Swedish and Irish origin, was born in Fiji and came to New Zealand as a young child where the family settled in Whangarei.

Between 1892 and 1894 there are records of him swimming with distinction in events around New Zealand, including in Auckland, Wanganui and Wellington. His favoured event was the freestyle sprint.

After winning the New Zealand swimming championships in 1894, Victor travelled to Australia and joined the Bondi swimming club.

While competing with success in local events, he met two Australians and another Kiwi, all four of whom were selected to go to England to further their experience in competition.

Records show he competed at carnivals with the team in London and Brussels in 1897, where he gained both second and third placings.

Between 1897 and 1898 Victor returned to New Zealand before travelling once again in early 1900 to Australia, and then on to London.

Sometime during this period he changed disciplines from swimming to water polo, the reason for the change is not explained.

He went to London for a short time leading up to the 1900 Games and was selected for the Osborne Swimming Club (on temporary membership) by the Royal Life Saving Society to travel to the 1900 Paris Olympic Games in their water polo team. At this time it was clubs, rather than official national teams, competing at the Games. As the Paris Games were only the second Olympics, the IOC was still feeling its way with regards to the running of them.

These Games were run in conjunction with the Paris World's Fair 1900 and the events ran from May 14-October 28, 1900; a five-and-a-half month duration. Some of the unusual events that were contested for the only time in the history of the Games included ballooning, croquet, surf lifesaving and underwater swimming.

The Osborne Swimming Club won all their matches by a comfortable margin against teams from Belgium, France and Germany, ultimately winning the gold medal. Victor played in all three of the club's matches.

Records show Victor concluded his swimming career, presumably after the Olympics at the age of 25, when he married his wife Teresa and moved to a farm in Pukekawa, south of Auckland.

They had six children together and remained in Pukekawa farming until the late 1940s when Victor retired to Greenlane, Auckland.

Victor remained interested in forms of healthy recreation and associated himself with all sporting bodies in Pukekawa. He played rugby for Onewhero and Tuakau and was a life member of the Pukekawa tennis club. Victor passed away on April 28, 1951 at the age of 75.

Gwenyth says she didn't see a lot of her grandfather as he lived in Auckland when she was young.

"I do remember him as a very kindly gentleman. Very quiet, he never said much. He didn't talk about his swimming history at all. They didn't really talk about those sorts of things back then."