Olympics, politics and history

It’s been a curious London Olympics for us Kiwis. We’ve won medals the usual way – sitting on our backsides. And the Aussies haven’t, yet. But there’s a week to go.

We’ve come a long way since the only way to legitimise anything we did was to do it in Britain.

That was how our first Olympic hero did it. John Edward (‘Jack’) Lovelock was a Rhodes Scholar who studied at Oxford in the early 1930s. That gave him a legitimacy in New Zealand eyes which he would not have had, had he simply been studying at one of the local colleges. And in 1936 he won gold in Berlin Olympics with a home-straight sprint in the 1500 metres, capturing a world record that stood until 1941. It was an astonishing achievement. Lovelock (1910-1949) has been a legend in New Zealand ever since.

Back then, the win had import that went well beyond sport. New Zealand Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage described the policies of his own government as ‘applied Christianity’. The Nazi German regime of the 1930s was the precise antithesis of that – and the New Zealand government knew it. Savage and his cabinet opposed fascism wherever they could, even when that stood against the British policy of ‘appeasing’ the beast.

Lovelock’s victory twitted the German regime of the day, who were using the games as a propaganda device.

But it is a relief that the 2012 games have little politics about them, apart from that gaffe with the North Korean flag.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012 


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