A piece of Olympic history has returned to Rotorua after 25 years.

Every year Rotorua Girls' High School and Tauranga Girls' College compete in a sports exchange. The overall winner claims "The Shoe" trophy, but it is not just any old shoe.

The shoe, perched on top of a block of rimu, is the left shoe Peter Snell was wearing when he won the 800m at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960, at the age of 21. He donated it to Tauranga Girls' College in the mid-60s to encourage competition between the two Bay of Plenty girls' schools in athletics.

Rotorua Girls' High School principal Ally Gibbons (left), sports captain Allannah Tapara and sports co-ordinator Carol Holt with
Rotorua Girls' High School principal Ally Gibbons (left), sports captain Allannah Tapara and sports co-ordinator Carol Holt with "The Shoe". Photo / Stephen Parker

Last week, Rotorua Girls' travelled to Tauranga and won the coveted trophy for the first time in 25 years. The exchange takes into account the two schools' results in two summer sports during the previous 12 months, before they play-off in a series of winter sports once a year. Going into this year's winter sport showdown, it was all tied up.

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Rotorua Girls' narrowly lost the premier and junior netball games, but picked up wins in junior and senior basketball, hockey and debate to claim the unique trophy.

The shoe was made especially for Snell by brothers Arthur and Wally Lydiard. Arthur Lydiard is considered a ground-breaking athletics coach due to his revolutionary endurance training methods for his students. His signature can be seen on the side of the shoe in gold letters.

The shoe is a significant piece of Kiwi history. The Olympic gold Snell won while wearing it was the start of an international career that included another two Olympic golds as well as two Commonwealth Games gold medals. In 2000, he was voted New Zealand's "Sports Champion of the [20th] Century" and was one of 24 inaugural members of the International Association of Athletics Federations Hall of Fame named in 2012.

The piece of Olympic history has returned to Rotorua after 25 years. Photo/Stephen Parker
The piece of Olympic history has returned to Rotorua after 25 years. Photo/Stephen Parker

Meanwhile, the right shoe is one of 14 pieces Snell donated to Te Papa in 2017, including two of his Olympic gold medals.

Rotorua Girls' sports co-ordinator Carol Holt said the annual sports exchange last week was "a wonderful day", regardless of the results.

"We had a pohiri to start with and I think the girls' connections off the court or field were awesome, Tauranga Girls' were very warm and welcoming.

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"It's great for the relationship between the schools, the exchange has been going for many years now and the more they're together the healthier it is. When we're at national competitions, Tauranga Girls' will come and cheer for us and we'll cheer for them. There's a rivalry, but a healthy one."

She said a lot of the school's current staff members attended the school as students and were excited to see the current crop claim the trophy.

"For me, as sports co-ordinator, it was fantastic. I had no idea it had been that long since we'd won it and everything you do you want to win, that's part of playing sport."

Principal Ally Gibbons said it was typical of Rotorua Girls' students to punch above their weight.

"They're a much bigger school than us, they're about 1400 and we're 570. The girls were fantastic, they were really great. Finally we can see what we've been playing for, we've always played this tournament but in the five years I've been here it's the first time we've brought it home.

"It was great being there and we're really proud of our girls. Tauranga Girls' were wonderful hosts and we had a great day competing. I don't want [the trophy] to go back now, we want to hold it for another 25 years to make it even."

Sports captain Allannah Tapara, 17, said winning the exchange was a "great achievement".

"After realising we hadn't won it for more than 20 years, I just feel proud to be the sports prefect this year and I'm really proud of the girls who went over to Tauranga.

"What really impressed me was the teamwork and the skills they demonstrated while playing. They worked together well. Now that we have the trophy, I think we'll fight even harder to keep it over the next few years.

"During the games it is a fierce rivalry, there's that motivation to win, but off the courts and fields we get along well."