LockerRoom

Golden moments of the Commonwealth Games

Every Golden Kiwi at the Commonwealth Games is undoubtedly remarkable, but some victories stick with you. LockerRoom editor Suzanne McFadden recounts the gold medal moments seared in her memory.  

YVETTE WILLIAMS, 1954

Admittedly I wasn’t around to ever see Yvette Williams compete. But I’ve spent precious hours with her since, talking about her incredible track and field career.

Williams was always an athlete of firsts: New Zealand’s first woman to win Olympic gold, in the long jump in 1952. And then at the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver, the first Kiwi athlete to bag three gold medals at one games – in the discus, shot put and long jump.

That feat is even more incredible considering she won the long jump and discus at the same time, having to change shoes as she alternated between jumps and throws. In both events, she set Games distance records.

Williams had already won two Empire Games medals – a gold in the long jump and silver in the javelin – from her first major international event, the 1950 Games in Auckland. “I loved the Commonwealth Games because everyone spoke English, and you got to know your fellow competitors without the language barrier,” she once told me.

By the end of 1954, Williams was ranked the world’s greatest all-round female athlete. Vancouver was her swansong, retiring from athletics at the age of 25.

JAYNIE PARKHOUSE, 1974

The 1974 Games in Christchurch were the first major event broadcast in colour in Kiwi homes. Although we only had a black and white TV, I can only recall Jaynie Parkhouse’s victory in technicolour.

The 17-year-old swimmer had already been to an Olympics and was coached by her dad, Pic Parkhouse. She’d almost quit the sport the year before, when she couldn’t make any headway in the pool.

She was the last swimmer chosen for the Games, having suddenly picked up speed by changing her kick from a two-beat style to a six-beat. In the pool, the load on the teenager was immense – swimming every day of the programme in four freestyle events.

The 800m free final was dominated by three Australians. Parkhouse hung back in fourth place until after the last turn. She hit the lead on that final lap, using the sprinters’ kick her father had taught her.

In the flurry at the finish wall, Parkhouse looked up at the scoreboard to see she had beaten world record-holder Jenny Turrall and two other Australian stars by just fractions of a second.  Her smile alone was unforgettable.

NEROLI FAIRHALL, 1982

I still have the scrapbook filled with every newspaper clipping I could get my hands on during the 1982 Games in Brisbane. Pride of place were the notable performances of three females – Anne Audain winning the 3000m in Commonwealth record time, Neroli Fairhall claiming archery gold from her wheelchair, and the Games’ towering mascot, Matilda the motorised kangaroo, coyly winking at the Duke of Edinburgh during the opening ceremony.

Fairhall’s accomplishment is still unrivalled. Paralysed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident on Christchurch’s Port Hills, Fairhall became the first disabled athlete to compete at a Commonwealth Games, when she lined up in the women’s archery at the Murarrie Recreation Reserve.

In a tense four-day competition, Fairhall’s composure, competitiveness and concentration helped her overcome nerves, a swirling breeze and Northern Ireland schoolgirl Janet Yates, who Fairhall edged by countback for gold.

There’s a Fairhall quote that remains legendary. At the press conference after her victory, she was asked if shooting from a wheelchair in the windy conditions was a help or a hindrance. Her cutting reply: “I don’t know. I’ve never shot standing up".

In 1984, Fairhall became the first disabled athlete to take part in an Olympics, where she finished 35th.

(On a side note, Matilda, having fallen on hard times, now happily resides at a petrol station on the Sunshine Coast near Gympie).

NIKKI JENKINS, 1990

Witnessing the moment the darling of the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games was crowned remains one of my most vivid sporting memories.

Not only was it the first time I’d covered a major sporting event, but I had known Nikki Jenkins - the 14-year-old who, out of the blue, won gold on the vault - since she was a toddler.

Jenkins’ parents had been my college PE teachers, who’d tried in vain to get me to hurdle the vaulting box. Their pocket-rocket daughter, on the contrary, flew over the apparatus and on to the top tier of the Commonwealth podium.

Jenkins wasn’t meant to compete in the individual all-round event of the artistic gymnastics competition, until a team-mate suddenly pulled out injured. The shy schoolgirl had just 15 minutes to change into her leotard, but her performance earned her a place in the vault final the following day.

While the much-vaunted Canadians fell around her like skittles, Jenkins completed her two vaults without falter. The youngest athlete to represent New Zealand at a Commonwealth Games remains our youngest gold medallist.

THE SILVER FERNS, 2010

After three decades covering netball, this 90-minute marathon towers above all my memories of Silver Ferns’ victories.  

The final of the 2010 Games in Delhi pitted New Zealand against Australia – as all Commonwealth finals have been since netball’s inclusion in 1998.

Their clashes had always been dramatic. In 2002, the Diamonds triumphed in golden-goal overtime. In 2006, the world champion Ferns rose above a parochial Melbourne crowd to win by five. But this decider, dragged into sudden-death extra-time, was particularly epic.

After a fierce battle in regular time, the scores were tied 47-all, and they remained deadlocked after 14 minutes of extra time. From there, they shot goal-for-goal – waiting for one team to make an error, and the other to grab a two-goal winning margin.

At the death, Australia’s New Zealand-born shooter Catherine Cox missed a clutch shot. At the opposite end, goal attack Maria Tutaia - crippled by calf cramps - calmly slotted one of her trademark long bombs, to tick the score over to 66-64. In the next moment, Tutaia was knocked to the wooden floor, rolling around in a bear hug with team-mate Temepara George.

The burden of expectation will be on Tutaia (now Maria Folau) again this week, as she makes her fourth Games appearance in a Ferns side short on experience, and struggling to find form. 

LAUREN BOYLE, 2014

Lauren Boyle is my neighbour, who enjoys gardening and cooking. But she's better known as one of New Zealand’s greatest swimmers.

Four years ago, the freestyle specialist stood on the starting blocks at her third, and ultimately final, Commonwealth Games, on track to better the silver and bronze medals she’d collected in relay events previously. Her lead-up to Glasgow was glittering - a world short-course title and three bronze medals at the 2013 FINA world championships.

In the Tollcross Pool, Boyle narrowly missed a medal in her first event, the 200m freestyle final, but knew her two favoured distances were still to come.  

In the 800m free, she had her “arse kicked” over the final 100m by victorious Welsh swimmer Jazz Carlin, and had to settle for silver. Twenty-four hours later, Boyle turned the tables on Carlin -this time taking the lead at halfway, and holding on to win the 400m free in Games record time.

The next morning, she was up at 5am to go swimming again. That was Boyle, devoted to the core. 

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