The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 2 (May 1, 1940.)
All Honour of New Zealand's … — Famous Athletes — Part III. — (Concluded.)
This is the third and concluding article of a series in which I have endeavoured to pay tribute to the many sterling sportsmen who have worn the Silver Fern in international sport. To give even a brief survey of the deeds of these athletes has entailed much burning of midnight oil, but it has been a pleasure and not a task. I am sincere in expressing the hope that some day our athletic history will be published in some form that coming generations will read and thrill at the deeds of Fitzsimmons, Murphy, Dave Smith, Jack Lovelock, Tiny Freyberg, Malcolm Champion, Tony Wilding, Billy Webb, and Dick Arnst.
With the track and field season recently concluded it is only to be expected that I should have thoughts of track and field men in my mind. To-day's stars include Pat Boot—now a 2nd Lieut. in training at Trentham—and Cecil Matthews. Boot holds the British Empire half-mile championship and record with 1 min. 51 1/4 sec., with Matthews undoubted champion British athlete at three to six miles. This was to have been their biggest season—the Olympic Games at Helsinki! That is now but a dream of what might have been. But enough of to-day's athletes … I want to write of sportsmen of other days. However, to leave Jack Lovelock out of this tribute to our past champions—even if his deeds are yet fresh in memory—would make this record far from complete.
Jack Lovelock did not win a New Zealand national track championship. He competed at two national gatherings—at Wanganui, when Don Evans triumphed, and at Dunedin, when Gordon Bayne ran away from a classy field including the American Rufus Kiser.
Selected as Rhodes Scholar, Lovelock went to England where he came under the eyes of Jerry Cornes, president of the Oxford University Athletic Club, and Thomas, the famous Oxford coach. He soon made his mark in good company, and in 1932 he broke the English mile record of 4 min. 12 sec., formerly held by A. G. Hill, who nowadays looks after the interests of S. G. Wooderson, world recordholder. This run gained Lovelock selection in the New Zealand Olympic team at Los Angeles, but, after running well in his heat, the New Zealander finished well back in the final, which was won by the Italian, Luigi Beccali. The Maorilander's time was to come. Gaining experience in “big” competition—he showed an aptitude for summing up the pace of the opposition—he later earned the title of “world's greatest miler.”
Some Famous New Zealand Athletes Taken At N.Z.A.A.A. Track And Field Championships, Wanganui, 1930.
Back Row (left to right): W. F. Ingram (well-known contributor to the “New Zealand Railways Magazine”): Randolph Rose (holder of New Zealand one-mile record); W. S. Corby (associated with Webb in many big sculling contests); Dick Jarrett (who introduced basketball, the crouch-start, and physical culture in schools to New Zealand); Billy Webb (former world champion sculler); L. B. (“Pat”) Webster (winner of 100, 220 and 400yd. New Zealand track titles); C. Breed (well-known boxing referee). Front: D. Wills (former New Zealand walking champion); Geoff. Pownall (former Wanganui champion half-miler and later President, New Zealand Rugby Football Union); Stan Lay (former British Empire, Australian and New Zealand champion javelin thrower), and Leo Marter (winner of many big cycling and running handicaps in Australia and New Zealand and later prominent official in Taranaki).
A great athlete in more than one branch of sport was George Smith, page 50 winger with the 1905 All Blacks. Smith represented New Zealand at Rugby football when 32 years old and won his fifth New Zealand sprint championship, on the athletic field, after he had passed his 32nd birthday! In all, Smith won fifteen New Zealand track titles, five at 100 yds., one at 220 yds., four over the 120-yd. hurdles, and five at 440-yd. hurdles. In 1902 he went to England to compete at the British championships and won the 120-yd. hurdles, a feat later repeated by Harry Wilson, Army hurdler, in 1919. Incidentally, Smith once defeated the great American sprinter, Arthur Duffy, world record-holder at sprint distances, in a 50-yd. handicap at Auckland. The New Zealander was in receipt of half-a-yard, and although Duffy broke the world record, he finished behind the flying New Zealander.
Smith scored the winning try against Scotland in 1905. Racing down the side-line, with four minutes to go, and receiving the ball from Bob Deans, he outpaced the opposition to score in the corner. Passing through Australia while returning to New Zealand after the tour, Smith discussed with Mr. J. Giltinan, a well-known Australian cricketing enthusiast in Australia, the possibilities of introducing Rugby League football to Australia and New Zealand. Both men agreed to do their best in their respective countries, but on arrival home Smith was surprised to hear that Mr. W. H. Baskerville had already taken steps to form a team to tour England. So it was that George Smith, Rugby representative and track hurdling champion, returned to England as a member of the “All Golds.” He is now a custodian of a Rugby League ground in England, and recently had the pleasure of welcoming a nephew who was a member of the New Zealand Rugby League team that played two matches in England and then abandoned the tour because of the war.
To-day few champion track athletes figure prominently in other sports, but in 1905—at the Shrubb-Duffy meeting at Athletic Park, Wellington—there were such noted men as Billy Wallace and George Smith among the entrants, and, in the schoolboys' race was Clarrie Grimmett, later destined to be one of the all-time stars in the cricketing world. He never played for New Zealand … like many others he had to go abroad to make a name for himself.
And just a reference to Dr. Arthur Porritt, another Rhodes Scholar, now on war service in England, after distinguishing himself by appointment as Surgeon-in-Ordinary to His Majesty the King. As with Lovelock, so with Porritt—neither won a national championship at a New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association meeting. Porritt's best performance in New Zealand was to finish third to Kirksey (U.S.A.) and Carr (Australia) in the famous race at Athletic Park. In England he met with much success, but few anticipated that he would beat most of the world's best and finish third in the 100 metres at the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924. He now occupies a prominent position in the international control of track and field sport.
Thelma Kench, niece to Harry Martis, who won four New Zealand sprint titles, represented New Zealand at the Olympic Games in 1932, but did not reproduce the form that gained her selection. She had a most effective finish, and from 1928 to 1932 had a wonderful record of 95 starts for 68 placings, including 47 wins from scratch!
But the most promising of all our feminine sprinters was Doreen Lumley, of Auckland. Only a youngster she equalled the world record of 11 sec. for 100 yards when she defeated the British Empire Games champion, Decima Norman, at Auckland last year. She seemed destined to bring great fame to New Zealand, but her career was cut short in a fatal motor accident in which her twin sister, also a fine athlete, suffered the same fate.
Space will not permit further discussion of track athletes, and I have to pass over the deeds of such great personalities as Phil O'Shea, Harry Watson and the Arnst Brothers (great cyclists), Clarke McConachy (world star at billiards), Dave Pretty (one of the best of axemen), D. Fraser (champion pigeon shot who, in 1903, killed 59 pigeons from a possible of 60), Percy (“Cannonball”) Coleman (daring motor-cyclist), Wally Kilmister (champion of the dirt track), Opai Asher (who played his first senior Rugby representative game at 11 years, and represented Tauranga against Auckland when 12 years old), Stan, Lay (champion of the British Empire at javelin throwing), and Dick Taiaroa (one of the two survivors of page 51 the first Maori Rugby team to visit England). This team, in 1888, played 74 games in six months, and it was on that tour that the Silver Fern became officially adopted as New Zealand's national sporting emblem.
Bob Smith, of Auckland, has been champion sculler of New Zealand for six seasons, and is surely entitled to reference in this Cavalcade of Champions, but it is of the past champions I would write. New Zealand's first sculler of international note was Tom Sullivan, who was unsuccessful in a world championship race against Jack Stanbury, on the Paramatta, in 1891. Sullivan later went to England and was coaching in Germany at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. He spent the next four years in an internment camp, but resumed his coaching engagements after the war, only to find himself in Germany at the outbreak of the present conflict! He is recognised as a world authority on coaching.
Following Sullivan came Billy Webb, the pride of Wanganui. Billy won the world sculling championship when he defeated George Towns in 1907, but in turn lost it to a fellow New Zealander Dick Arnst Webb lost the title in December, 1908, but the return race in June, 1909, created amazing interest, special trains travelling to Wanganui with hundreds of patrons. Arnst once again proved the master, winning by four lengths.
They rowed for a side-wager of £500 a-side, the stake being held by Mr. Webb-Jones, a well-known Wanganui sporting personality. The time for the 3 1/4 miles was 18 min. 15 sec. Arnst chopped 1 min. 35 sec. from the championship record and Webb took 1 min. 10 sec. off the previous best time. Two great sportsmen … New Zealanders both … to whom the present generation would pay homage. It is ten years since I last met Billy Webb … but he was as straight as a gunbarrel as he shared the limelight with two other great sportsmen, Dick Jarrett and Arthur Holder, when reminiscences were being exchanged at an athletic meeting in Wanganui.
Since the days of Webb and Arnst, New Zealand has had another official holder of the world sculling championship. Darcy Hadfield, who first rowed into prominence as a member of the New Zealand Army Eight, won the title by defeating Alfred Felton, of Australia, who had taken it from Ernest Barry. In turn, Hadfield lost the crown, and for a period its ownership was clouded in a maze of title claimants. Eventually, Paddy Hannan, nowadays in business at Picton, defeated all-comers in New Zealand and was matched against Major Goodsell, outstanding Australian sculler. After a great race the New Zealander suffered defeat. At that time he was a comparative veteran, having been one of New Zealand's best scullers for nearly twenty years … he raced against Arnst sixteen years earlier on the Wairau River!
And so I bring my tribute to our great athletes to a close. What holds the future? Will the present generation and those to come uphold the prestige of those who have gone ahead? I think New Zealand has the, material … but the talent must be developed. Our pioneer athletes triumphed in an era prior to specialisation and coaching; to-day we are inclined to lag behind in the scientific side of sport. The future, to be successful, should see an expansion of scientific coaching. We have the material, we have the healthiest country in the world … have we the ambition to learn?