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New Zealand's Greatest Olympians - Number 18: Bruce Kendall


New Zealand Olympic sailboarder Bruce Kendall. Photo / Paul Estcourt

We're counting down New Zealand's 25 greatest Olympians. Today, boardsailor Bruce Kendall.

Gold: Lechner Windsurfing, Seoul, 1988

New Zealand's stellar success in Olympic boardsailing began with one man: Bruce Kendall.
Kendall was still in his teens when he won selection for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where windsurfing was included in the Olympic programme for the first time. In those days the yachting establishment thought little of the burgeoning new sport, which attracted colourful characters sporting strange hairstyles.

But Kendall's bronze medal in his first Games helped propel the sport forward, sparking a run of boardsailing success that saw windsurfers win seven of New Zealand's 16 Olympic yachting medals since 1984.

Kendall would have scooped silver, and possibly the gold, at that event, had it not been for a disqualification in the third race after a collision with a Frenchman.

Once he had been disqualified the onus was on him to prove his innocence, and with no witnesses it was impossible.

"I had bronze and learnt some tough lessons. I did note at this time I was often the fastest sailor on the course but lacked international experience," Kendall later recalled in an interview with Sail World.

By the next Olympics, Kendall had added international experience to his raw talent. He was generally one of the smallest competitors in the field, but had rare determination and plenty of strength, which was never more evident than in Seoul in 1998, where Kendall dominated the fleet to have the gold medal sewn up before the final race.

In doing so he became the first New Zealand Olympic sailor to win two medals.

Kendall is considered desperately unlucky not to have added further medals to his already impressive collection.

At the Barcelona Games in 1992 - the event in which his younger sister Barbara became a breakout star - faulty equipment denied Kendall a second straight gold.

The fin on his Lechner board, which were supplied by the Olympic regatta organisers in those days, snapped in the third race. Kendall appealed, but the jury dismissed his complaint.

The massive points penalty Kendall carried from that disastrous third race saw him slip back in the field - a deficit he tried valiantly to make up over the remainder of the regatta, only to finish fourth. His final placings were: 12-18-DNF-3-10-1-1-13-14-2. Had the DNF been replaced by a reasonable finish, he would have been among the medallists.

The result left Kendall with mixed emotions about the Barcelona regatta.

"It even soured my pleasure about Barbara's gold for a while," he said, "and I'm the guy who coaches her."

Biography: Bruce Kendall

• Born into a yachting family, Kendall started out in the P-class and starlings before progressing to crewing 470 and keelboats. But his real passion from the age of 14 was windsurfing.

• He was among the first group of windsurfers to compete at the Olympics when boardsailing was included in the Olympic sailing programme for the first time in 1984.

• After winning bronze in Los Angeles in '84, Kendall became the first New Zealand sailor to win two Olympic medals when he topped the podium in Seoul four years later.

• The 1992 Games in Barcelona was one of mixed emotions for Kendall. He finished fourth after being hampered by faulty equipment, while his younger sister Barbara won gold in the women's event.

• He was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

How we did it

This list was drawn up by expert Herald and Radio Sport journalists from our team covering the Rio Olympics.

It wasn't easy, partly because of the number of fantastic feats over the last century or so and partly because of the difficulty of comparing performances across sports and eras.

The first ground rule was that only gold medallists would be considered. That was tough considering the likes of Nick Willis (silver, 2008), Dick Quax (silver, 1976), Paul Kingsman (bronze, 1988) and Bevan Docherty (silver and bronze, 2004 & 2008) provided some of our most memorable Olympic moments.

We also agreed potential success in Rio wouldn't be taken into account. The list was also restricted to the Summer Olympics, otherwise Annelise Coberger, our own Winter Olympics medallist may have featured quite prominently.

Each member of the panel wrote their own list before we came together to thrash it out five at a time. It was a head-scratcher, but in a good way because it was a celebration of success.

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