VIOLET WALROND (nee ROBB)
Olympian
1905-1996

New Zealand's first female Olympic athlete

Long before Yvette Williams became New Zealand's first female Olympic gold medallist, there was Violet Walrond, New Zealand's first female Olympic representative.

Walrond opened an Olympic door for the Kiwi athletes to follow.

She was just 14 when she was chosen to compete at the Antwerp Games in 1920 and 15 when she arrived in Belgium to swim in the cold, dark waters of the hurriedly constructed canal complex near the city centre.

Her father Cecil, or Tui, was also her coach, and doubled as chaperone and unofficial coach of the team.

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There was little preparation and training opportunities were limited on the nine-week journey. There were no uniforms and the fern leaves on their hat bands were the only features which distinguished them as New Zealanders.

Walrond stood at 1.6m tall and weighed 48.5kg - small by today's athletes' standards - but acquitted herself admirably.

She finished fifth of 19 in the 100m freestyle and seventh of 16 in the 300m event.

Walrond went on to place third in an 8km race on the River Thames after the Olympics and in 1923, she won the 100-yard freestyle at the Australian championships in Sydney.

In 1924, aged 19, the Olympics beckoned once again - this time in Paris.

Her sister Edna was a similarly talented diver and swimmer. However, her father said no, they could not go to Paris.

Instead they were to retire as he wanted them to step out of the spotlight. In those days, that was the final word in the matter and both women ended their sporting careers shortly afterwards.