We’re counting down New Zealand’s 25 greatest Olympians. David Leggat profiles No 23, boxer Ted Morgan.

With due respect to Malcolm Champion, Wellington boxer Ted Morgan deserves to be known as the first purely New Zealand Olympic gold medallist.

Champion's swimming gold 16 years earlier came as part of an Australasian quartet.

Morgan's is a story of courage and skill producing an ultimate reward.

Born in London, Morgan came to New Zealand with his family aged 1. They settled in Wellington and after Wellington College, Morgan worked as a plumber. Pictures of him at the time show a lean man with an optimistic grin.


When he won his place for Amsterdam, Morgan, who stood 1.72m, was to fight in the lightweight division, but put on weight on the long sea voyage and turned up three pounds over the limit. That meant stepping up to welterweight, where he was forced to give up several pounds to his opponents.

Undaunted, the man who was New Zealand's amateur lightweight champion in 1925 and 1927 determined not to be undone by that handicap. A southpaw - that is, leading with his right hand - Morgan had the reputation of a boxer who applied an offensive game plan, going after opponents and forcing mistakes.

He had a further setback a week before the tournament began when he dislocated a knuckle on his left hand while sparring.

He knocked out his first opponent, Swede Selfrid Johannson, in the second round; then beat Italian Romano Canova comfortably on points, despite copping several head butts and finishing the fight with a black eye.

In the semifinals, he won a points victory over favourite Rene Catalaud of France.

Fighting for gold against experienced Argentine Paul Landini, Morgan's hand by this time was badly damaged, making punching effectively a painful business.

He could not straighten his left hand, but he dug deep and won a unanimous points decision, one English writer labelling him the "best boxer at the Games".

Morgan returned home in triumph, but after winning 26 of 28 amateur bouts, he turned pro in 1929. It wasn't a success - he won only 13 of 26 bouts before retiring in October 1934.

Morgan married twice. His first wife, Norma Wilson, was a sprinter in the 1928 Games team. He was a non-smoker and his death in 1952 at only 46 was attributed to inhalation of fumes while working as a plumber.

He remains New Zealand's only Olympic boxing gold medallist.

Biography: Ted Morgan

• Gold, welterweight boxing, Amsterdam, 1928.

• Morgan received offers from British and American promoters to box professionally, but turned them down.

• His final appearance in the ring came in October 1934, beaten by Don Stirling in a welterweight title fight.

• Although his professional record was spotty, he lost just two of 28 fights as an amateur.

• Morgan remains New Zealand's only Olympic boxing champion and it was not until 56 years later that Kevin Barry's silver at Los Angeles doubled the medal tally.

How we did it

This list was drawn up by expert Herald and Radio Sport journalists from our team covering the Rio Olympics.

It wasn't easy, partly because of the number of fantastic feats over the last century or so and partly because of the difficulty of comparing performances across sports and eras.

The first ground rule was that only gold medallists would be considered. That was tough considering the likes of Nick Willis (silver, 2008), Dick Quax (silver, 1976), Paul Kingsman (bronze, 1988) and Bevan Docherty (silver and bronze, 2004 & 2008) provided some of our most memorable Olympic moments.

We also agreed potential success in Rio wouldn't be taken into account. The list was also restricted to the Summer Olympics, otherwise Annelise Coberger, our own Winter Olympics medallist may have featured quite prominently.

Each member of the panel wrote their own list before we came together to thrash it out five at a time. It was a head-scratcher, but in a good way because it was a celebration of success.

The list so far

No 25: Alan Thompson, gold medal kayaker

No 24: Norman Read, gold medal walker