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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 2 (May 2, 1938.)

Panorama of the Playground — New Zealanders In World Sport

page 61

Panorama of the Playground
New Zealanders In World Sport

Since 1936 New Zealand has had four of its sons taking a prominent part in world sport. When Jack Lovelock won the 1500 metres at the Olympic Games in Berlin he started what may be termed a golden age for New Zealand sport. This, despite the fact that Lovelock had been a world figure in track sport for several years; his hour of real triumph was in Berlin when he defeated the best milers the world could offer and set world figures for 1500 metres.

New Zealand's next opportunity in sport of really international calibre came this year when the Empire Games were staged at Sydney. Here it was that Cecil Matthews, with his record-breaking runs in the three-mile and six-mile championships, and Vernon (“Pat”) Boot, in his record-breaking run of 880 yards, placed themselves right in the middle of the sporting spotlight.

Now it is the turn of Maynell (“Lofty”) Blomfield, who after winning the world championship elimination tournament in New Zealand last winter, travelled to America with the express purpose of meeting Bronko Nagurski for the world wrestling title.

Nagurski, the highest paid footballer in America, was in the middle of his football season when Blomfield arrived in America and it was several months before the New Zealander could achieve his desire of meeting the world champion. But the great day came at last and the Silver Fern went in against the Stars and Stripes at Vancouver on March 17th. It is history of how Nagurski secured a fall in the fourth round and Blomfield, securing his celebrated “octopus clamp,” evened things in the eighth round. The verdict a draw was considered a fair one, but the good people of Vancouver were anxious to stage a rematch. Blomfield was willing— naturally enough, for he had much to gain from another match—but Nagurski, who had resisted the pressure of Blomfield's clamp, was on the injured list with a ricked back and Blomfield sailed for New Zealand without having a return bout.

Already New Zealanders are asking if Nagurski will be tempted to visit New Zealand to meet Blomfield for the title. This is a match which would attract a New Zealand record crowd for a two-man sporting contest, but there is only a remote chance that Nagurski will come to these shores—he wants a guarantee of £7000 for a stay of two weeks!

This large sum might seem out of proportion to the stay in New Zealand but when it is pointed out that Nagurski would need to spend six weeks on the steamer during his voyage to and from New Zealand and that he is the world champion, a champion who is able to wrestle two and three nights a week—in exhibition bouts if necessary—and make good money without travelling, the sum begins to assume a more reasonable dimension.

A future champion. Miss Shona Oliphant.

A future champion. Miss Shona Oliphant.

But £7000 is beyond the means of wrestling associations in New Zealand. The Dominion of New Zealand Wrestling Union is not a promoting body— that power is delegated to the affiliated associations and none of these associations has sufficient funds to guarantee Nagurski the amount asked. It is possible that the Wellington and Auckland wrestling associations may jointly guarantee Nagurski the amount and stage an open-air bout but experience of open-air matches in New Zealand make this a gamble not likely to be lightly entered into.

Two seasons ago wet weather ruined the Don George-McCready match and last winter the proposed open-air match between Lofty Blomfield and McCready had to be staged in the Auckland Town Hall when some 8,000 would-be spectators could not get in, although many of them offered as much as £2 for a seat.

New Zealanders have seen some of the world's best wrestlers in action but will have to dig deep into their pockets if the demands of Nagurski are to be met.

* * *

Teams on Tour.

It's touring season for New Zealand sportsmen and sportswomen again. This winter New Zealand representative teams in Rugby Union and Rugby League will visit Australia, while a Maori Rugby team is to travel to Samoa. In addition to these teams, New Zealand will send a womens's basketball team to Australia. This will be the first basketball team to represent New Zealand and it has been necessary to amend the rules so that the matches will be played under a uniform set of rules. Although basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith in 1892—he is still living in America—many countries have adopted their own sets of rules until to-day the original game is not played. An effort is being made to standardise the rules in Australia and New Zealand so that a regular interchange of visits may take place.

So much for the international matches abroad; what of big sporting page 62 fixtures in New Zealand? In a few weeks a team of Indian hockey players will arrive to keep our men busy defending the goal while, a little later, a team of English women will arrive to test the calibre of our women hockey players. It's going to be another great sporting year for New Zealand spectators and players.

* * *

A Future Champion.

A feature of American athletics seldom met with in New Zeaalnd is the phenomenal rise from obscurity to fame of athletes, almost over-night. When Miss Shona Oliphant competed in the British Empire Games trial meeting in Wellington last December she did not get any “Press notices” although she won the 220 yards sprint. She was never considered as a possible member of the Empire Games team to visit Sydney but she has “arrived” with a vengeance.

During the latter part of February and the early part of March I spent several days in Timaru where I saw this future Olympic champion training. Daughter of an old-time athlete, Shona Oliphant, just 16 years old, has a future in athletics that might bring more fame to the town that was made famous by Bob Fitzsimmons, Jack Lovelock and Phar Lap. Her efforts in defeating two Empire Games representatives in their own special events at the New Zealand championship programme is but a taste of what is to come.

Having seen all the N.Z. champions in women's track and field sport since the feminine section was formed, I have no hesitation in stating that Shona Oliphant has all the necessary attributes of a great champion.

* * *

Polo Returns to Favour.

New Zealand is to have representation by polo players at the great gathering in Australia after all. For a time it was thought that financial hurdles would prohibit the sending of a team but New Zealanders who love equestrian events have come to the rescue and a team fully representative of the Dominion will match prowess with the Australians. This year's Saville Cup tournament in Hamilton was the best of the series and at last it would seem that the exciting game of polo is coming back to its own. It is a game seldom seen in the cities but one of these days those living in the principal centres might have the opportunity of seeing an exhibition game. I am sure that such a game played on the Basin Reserve, Wellington, would have attracted a “gate” sufficient to meet most of the expenses incurred in sending the team overseas. It is a suggestion worth keeping in mind for future occasions.

* * *

Although wrestling is unquestionably the greatest crowd-puller among indoor winter sporting enterprises, boxing is experiencing a mild form of revival in New Zealand. Unfortunately the standard of professional boxing is not high. With the exception of one or two who do not show a great deal of enthusiasm about getting in the ring, the majority of the professionals are comparatively inexperienced. However, with the possibility of Billy Aitken coming back against selected Australian opponents the position might improve. It takes a really outstanding local boxer to bring about a boom. This was proved by Johnny Leckie, Charlie Purdy, Reg Trowern and Tommy Donovan. At the moment there does not seem tobe any boxer of that class showing his wares.