The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 8 (November 1, 1935)
Panorama of the Playground — How Do We Compare?
The crowds are cheering as one of our national champions smashes a Dominion record and spectators are enthusiastically smiling at each other in exultation. “By jove, he's good, isn't he?” “Little New Zealand can breed them!” are among the remarks made by the more ardent supporters. Our men are good, wonderfully good when the circumstances of competition are considered. But New Zealand is a small country and the only way we can become a great athletic nation is to aim for world championship standard and make that standard alone our guiding star. To smash a native record is fine; in fact it's most difficult, but if we set our mark at our own standard instead of the world's, there can be no real progress.
Observers have been amazed by the cheerful attitude of youthful American college athletes towards world record figures.
“Aw heck! Don't let's worry about our records. Let's have a smack at the world's!” they say quite seriously. Consequently they now find that quite often their own records are equal to or better than the world's standard!
It was not always this way. For years, in fact, right up to about 1913, an athlete who cleared 6 ft. 1 in. in the high jump was a certain place-getter in the American National Championship. In other words, their pre-war standard was on a par with our present New Zealand record. By aiming higher, the new school of student athletes studied, trained and practised, until now the world's mark, held by W. Marty, is 6 ft. 9£ in.!
Let us examine, therefore, our best New Zealand performances in sport and see just how much we have to advance before we can look the world squarely in the eye.
In boxing, New Zealand has brought forward many great fighters, prominent among whom were the great Bob Fitzimmons, Billy Murphy, Tom Heeney and Charlie Purdy. At the present time there is not a single man in this country up to world's class. Why? Perhaps because there are very few aiming at the top. In boxing the standard is gauged by the win over another man of repute and fighting ability. If our boxers remain in this country, or do not battle against the best of visiting boxers, how can they ever become any better? They can only defeat their fellows. Bob Fitzimmons and Billy Murphy had to travel to Australia, and thence to America, before they could gain recognition. Charlie Purdy proved himself at the Olympic Games, later in Ireland and finally in Australia. Boxing is not like the track where times are everything and the opponents nothing.
Tennis is a similar sport to boxing in that the player is judged by the prowess of the opponent defeated. Therefore, Anthony Wilding, our own great world's champion, had to travel to Europe to become famous. No matter how well he played in Christchurch, it is very doubtful if he would have been heard of outside of matches with prominent visitors. At the present time tennis leads the sporting community of this country in that its best players, Malfroy, Andrews and Stedman, are abroad gaining international experience. The New Zealand Lawn Tennis Association has introduced more world's champions to the public and players of New Zealand than any other similar sporting organisation. Tilden, Johnson, O'Loughlan, Crawford, Perry, Borata, Austin, Hughes, McGrath, Miss Round and others, are the very cream of the world's tennis elect, and players here have all had the opportunity of studying and playing against these stars.
Australia is not far distant and players there are equal to the best in the world. Why not send a Dominion team to compete there at every Australian Championship? Despite the visitors from whom we have benefited, our general standard is not at all good. Only more and more matches against better class opponents can remedy this. The trouble is, of course, that whilst the boxer has a chance of earning money during his travelling, the tennis player, unless very famous, has to pay out all the time! So personal and Association finance has a tremendous bearing upon international sport.
Golf is in the same category. This game is rapidly becoming the most popular winter pastime for all classes and ages in the Dominion. No other sport has gained such an increase of adherents during the last ten years. Despite having our own professionals and the visits of prominent overseas players, we still have a very long way to go before we can even look at the world's best players. This was proved during the big Centenary tournaments in Melbourne, when New Zealand's best players were well down in the list.
Of course, there are a hundred reasons. Relatively small numbers of players to choose from, lack of suitable courses, lack of real competition, lack of finance, and others that would take pages to enumerate. But we are not looking for excuses; merely endeavouring to impart a national flavour and enthusiasm to our sport. We are small, but when all is said and done it is individuals who count in sport. The musterer in Ohakune is only “one” man, as is Babe Jones of New York City!
Let's take two countries at the last Olympic Games—Ireland and Finland.
For years now, little Finland has defeated every country, excepting the U.S.A., in athletics. And its population of five million people is very insignificant in contrast to the teeming millions of Great Britain, France, or Germany. The Irish Free State sent the smallest team to Los Angeles and had the greatest percentage of success. Dr. O'Callaghan won the hammer throw, Tisdall won the 400 metre hurdles, and Sam Ferris was second in the marathon, which was not bad for a team comprising four athletes. New Zealand's only Olympic title was won by Ted Morgan in the boxing section at Amsterdam in 1928. Malcolm Champion was in the winning Australasian relay team in the swimming events at the Stockholm Olympics, but these two firsts are this country's total wins in Olympic events.
Joe Kirkwood, perhaps Australia's best golfer of recent years, made his international name when he went to reside in the U.S.A. after the Australian people had subscribed to give him a trip!
In a country such as New Zealand where there is a dearth of high class competition, there is some excuse for an ordinary standard in all sports, excepting, perhaps, tennis. But in games where times and measurements are the deciding factors there is little excuse for our “loafing.” A mile race run in better than 4m. 6 4/5s. would gain immediate recognition as a world's record if it were run on the Domain in Auckland. It is not at all necessary for the runner to journey to London or Princeton.
The only world's track record this country has to its credit is the time of 3 minutes for the half mile walk, held jointly by F. H. Creamer and Dave Wilson. This is recognised all over the world as the standard in these events.
For years now, our swimmers and athletes, both competing in sports where time and distance are the distinguishing factors, have been far more concerned in defeating a rival opponent, than in smashing a record. Thus we have had the spectacle of runners capable of running a mile in under 4m. 20s. winning a championship in 4m. 26s. merely because it was a “tactics” race. This is only human nature, but it is keeping the sport back.
In America there must be the same number of formidable rivals in each race, yet they all win in wonderful times. No more carefully-planned races can have been witnessed than the series of great miles between Lovelock, Bonthron and Cunningham. Yet in a few races the world's mark shot back from around 4m. 10s. to 4m. 6 4/5s., and it must be remembered that their own individual best times were only around 4m. 12s. to 4m. 15s. Time! Time! Time! That is the only thing that matters in track and swimming events.
Let us compare track standards alone. Don Evans and Dennis Anderson have run a half mile here in 1m. 54 4/5s. The average championship is run in 1m. 57s. “Blazing Ben” Eastman holds the world's mark with 1m. 49 4/5s. Our men are knocking at the door. Training to time will open it.
For years our pole vaulters clung to 10 ft. 6 in. to 11 ft. with “Bill” Batstone finally clearing 11 ft. 4 1/2 in. to establish our native record. Over in the U.S.A., Deacon soared to 14 ft. 2 3/4 in., and W. Graber, of Stanford University, sits pretty with 14 ft. 4 3/8 in. Why, there is 3 ft. difference!
It was away back in 1906 that the great G. P. Keddell cleared 23 ft. 3 in. in the broad jump. That is almost 30 years ago, and yet not a single New Zealander can beat this figure, even when we know that the world's mark is 26 ft. 2 1/8 in., held by Chuhu Nambu, of Japan. Young Sammy Richardson, of Canada, who was here this year, cleared 24 ft. 4 in., and he was 16 years of age. Another young negro of 18, Jesse Owens, got over 25 ft. 7 4/5 in., and dozens of men around the world hit the 24 ft. to 25 ft. mark. If an athlete clears 21 ft. here, it is considered to be an excellent leap.
The javelin mark is now up to 251 ft. 7 in., so let's forget that 160 ft. to even 190 ft. is splendid throwing. It is good, but not good enough.
Perhaps the nearest in this country to world's standard is Harold Brainsby whose 49 ft. 8 5/4 in. in the hop, step and jump is still a bit below that of the little Japanese, Oshima, who recently broke his countryman Nambu's record when he cleared 52 it. 6 in. Brainsby is nearly 3 ft. behind, but he is still above the average, as there are few who can touch 50 ft.
The New Zealand discus record is 139 ft. 2 in. and the world's record, held by Anderson of Sweden, is 172 ft. 1/2in., which is about 33 ft. better than ours. In the hammer throw we are throwing 153 ft. 5 in., whilst the world's mark is 189 ft. 6 1/2 in. Our shot putt record is 46 ft. 1/2 in., but big Jack Torrance, of Louisiana, has hurled the 16 lb. weight 57 ft. 17–32 in. Our swimmers are thrashing out the hundred yards in 54 4/5s., whilst Fick, Medica, and Spence are swimming the same distance in 50 seconds and under. Young Vande Wighe swam a 100 yards back stroke in 59 4/5s., which is faster than many here can cut it out in free style!
One could go on and on, but the inference is clear. In New Zealand we have still a long way to go before we can rank high in the world of sport. Don't think for one moment that the ability of our men is being disparaged. They do wonderfully well, considering all things. The inference is that we must not “kid” ourselves we are good, when the rest of the world is so far ahead of us.