The “eights” is the glamour event of rowing regattas. When the New Zealand crew arrived in Munich for the 1972 Olympic Games, they were ranked favourites to win gold, with the 1971 world champions title under their belts.
Competition for gold was stiff. The East German crews had already won five gold medals on that finals day, and the United States were perennial eights champions. The Kiwis had a scare in the semifinals, with a surprising loss to West Germany.
But when it came to the final, on September 2, acclaimed coach Rusty Robertson had his men prepared for glory. The crew were buoyed by the silver medal won by the coxless four earlier in the day.
The eights, stroked by Tony Hurt and coxed by Simon Dickie, burst off the start line, held their lead at the halfway mark of the 2km race, and won by three seconds from the Americans, with the East Germans third.
Holding with tradition, Dickie was tossed into the water by his crew.
It was the first time a New Zealand eight had won Olympic gold – and it would be the only gold medal the New Zealand team won in 1972.
It was a hugely popular victory. The nine New Zealand rowers were all amateurs in a mostly professional field; New Zealand Rowing had raised $100,000 – with the help of bingo and raffles - to get the team to Munich. The head of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, was so impressed by their efforts, he asked to present the gold medals himself.
On the medal dais, the Kiwi men openly cried as God Defend New Zealand was played for the first time, instead of God Save the Queen.
The cedar plywood Karlisch eight-oared shell that the New Zealanders rowed to victory was gifted to Voyager in 1996. It represented the end of an era for the wooden shell in competitive rowing – replaced by lighter, more expensive reinforced plastic shells.
- The crew was Tony Hurt, Wybo Veldman, Dick Joyce, John Hunter, Lindsay Wilson, Athol Earl, Trevor Coker, Gary Robertson and cox Simon Dickie.