Athletics and Triathlon in New Zealand

In a country where the population is so active it is hardly surprising that athletics has a rich heritage. Thousands of people take part in athletics every week, and there are 200 clubs throughout the country.

New Zealand has a rich history of successes at the Olympic Games and setting world record times. Jack Lovelock set the standard by winning the 1500 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in record time. He also won the mile at the Empire Games in London in 1934 and set the world record for the mile in Princeton in 1933. He is the only New Zealander to break both the 1500m and mile records. Lovelock’s achievements were followed by Peter Snell who won the 800 meters at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He followed this by defending the title in 1964 where he also won the 1500m. The three-time Olympian also broke the world records in the 800 and 1000 meters, and the mile.

John Walker 100 sub-4-minute miles

If Snell was New Zealand’s man on the track in the 60s, the title for the 70s surely belongs to John Walker. In a career that ran into his forties, Walker ran 100 sub-4-minute miles, including breaking the world record for the mile in under 3 minutes 50 seconds. The highlight of his career was winning the 1500 meters at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.

The success of the country in the middle-distance running is continued today by the exploits of Nick Willis. He won silver at the 2008 Olympic Games and gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and is still competing today at the age of 35. Valerie Adams has won the world championships four times in the shot put. She also won gold at both 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. She currently holds the National, Commonwealth and World Championship record with her best throw of 21.24 meters.


As well as in track and field, New Zealand athletes have excelled in the triathlon event. The combination of swimming, cycling and running truly tests the athlete’s endurance. The New Zealand Triathlon Association was formed in September 1984, and as triathlon started its formative years in the 1980’s, Erin Baker gained the world success.

Carter getting the better of fellow countryman Docherty in Athens

She won eight world titles over a variety of distances from the sprint all of the way up to the Ironman event. During this period, Rick Wells achieved similar success in the men’s events. He won world titles in both short course and long course events.

One of New Zealand’s greatest moments at an Olympic Games happened at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. It was only the second time the triathlon had been competed for and on the first occasion four years previously, event favorite New Zealander Hamish Carter had flopped badly and finished 26th.

In Athens, the favorite was a fellow countryman Bevan Docherty, but a lung busting surge in the final kilometer of the run saw Carter took the gold from Docherty who finished in second place. This was the first time the New Zealanders took 1st and 2nd places in the Olympic event.

Docherty also had a stellar career winning the world championship, and then collected the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games. New Zealand’s excellence in the triathlon is today being continued by many athletes with the highest ranked Andrea Hewitt who currently lies third in the 2017 world rankings. There is no doubt that the popularity of athletics and other endurance based events will continue to grow in the nation where physical activity is so fondly embraced.

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