Fifty years on, it remains one of New Zealand’s most memorable Olympic medal ceremonies.



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After the gold medals were placed around the necks of the crew of the Kiwi men’s eight at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the New Zealand flag was raised and ‘God Defend New Zealand’ played for the first time ever at the Games. At previous events, ‘God Save the Queen’ had been used as the national anthem.

Something about these victors, clad in their national sporting colours, their emotions spilling over, was deeply and uniquely Kiwi, and New Zealanders sitting in their living rooms watched them proudly on TV.

With Dickie yelling commands, the oarsmen – Trevor Coker, Athol Earl, John Hunter, Tony Hurt, Dick Joyce, Gary Robertson, Wybo Veldman and Lindsay Wilson – produced a superlative display, and never once looked like being headed off by silver medallists East Germany and third-placed United States. And although the Kiwis were the defending world champions, four years earlier in Mexico the eight had failed under pressure and the East German boats had been dominant. Dickie believed it was the incredible team effort that brought glory.

“I think it’s pretty much the dynamic of the individuals that were in that crew,” he was quoted as saying. “It was an extraordinary combination of minds that were singularly aimed at achieving a common goal, which was to win.

“I mean, if you asked me how did all that happen, a huge amount of credit has to go to the selectors – at that time, Fred Strachan, Don Rowlands – and Rusty Robertson the coach. They were the guys that put the nine individuals together. They left it to Rusty to train that crew. It was an extraordinarily dynamic group of individuals.

“So it wasn’t just about having the physical skills to achieve success, but it was actually having the mental capacity to drive through that barrier of not only wanting it but doing whatever it took to achieve it. A lot of mental factors came into play to achieve that result.”

Physically, they also had to be at their peak to beat an East German crew that was competing in an era when that country’s leading sportspeople were part of a systemic state doping programme.

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We upheld the principle of everything that was wholesome about sport in those days, by beating those who were using whatever influence they could to try to achieve a result. That to me is probably the single most satisfying feature of 1972. Simon Dickie, Coxwain

“Subsequently, of course, we’ve learnt that there was a significant amount of enhancement to their performance by way of what we would now commonly call cheating,” Dickie said of their major rivals.

So there was plenty of symbolism in New Zealand’s triumph. “It was a bit of a watershed Olympics, 1972,” Dickie said. “Avery Brundage was still head of the International Olympic Committee [IOC] – he was a great advocate of amateur sport as opposed to professional sport.

“I think he was certainly cognisant that there were things going on inside the Eastern countries that were tilting the playing field in their favour. They were using sport as a political tool. He knew there was an inevitability about that – but he didn’t agree with the way they were achieving their results.

“So when we won, we gave him cause to celebrate his viewpoints. You didn’t actually need to be a professional, you didn’t need to be a cheat – you could be just a wholesome bunch of guys.

“We upheld the principle of everything that was wholesome about sport in those days, by beating those who were using whatever influence they could to try to achieve a result. That to me is probably the single most satisfying feature of 1972.”

The images of that crew from 50 years ago are seared on the retinas of many Kiwi sports fans – from those who saw it happen on their black-and-white TV sets to those who have since learned the lore.

Then in 2021 another golden chapter was written. The New Zealand men’s eight matched the legendary exploits of the 1972 crew when they won rowing gold at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo.

As you would expect, with 49 years between them there were stark contrasts between the two crews. The 1972 champs wore black singlets; Tokyo’s triumphant crew wore white to help with the heat. Coxswain Simon Dickie urged along Gary Robertson, Trevor Coker, Athol Earl, Lindsay Wilson, John Hunter, Dick Joyce, Wybo Veldman and Tony Hurt in their wooden skiff, while the 2021 version skipped the course in their carbon fibre craft.

In Tokyo, Bosworth dished the medals out from a tray as if he were considerately apportioning dessert at a dinner party, whereas in Munich, IOC’s president Brundage was so impressed by New Zealand’s win that he insisted on handing out the medals himself.

The 1972 gongs were received by men in shorts, some of them wearing black socks with a white trim; the current champs were uniformly attired in matching tracksuits and black sneakers.

The New Zealanders at Tokyo wore masks as protection against the spectre of a worldwide pandemic. In Munich in 1972, the event was run despite a terrorist attack on Israeli team members that left 11 dead. Hamish Bond is very familiar with the story of the Munich crew. “Coming through school and into the senior ranks, my coach was Fred Strachan, the manager of the 1972 eight and the successful 1980s eights. I’ve had the old-timers in my ear for the last 15-odd years telling me about the ’72 eight.

“And I’m sure they are pleased that we’ve been able to come together and put the New Zealand eight right back up there. It’s a huge honour to be in the same league as those guys.”

Fifty years on, the names of the 1972 crew and their outstanding achievement, forever etched in New Zealand’s sporting history, continue to inspire others.

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