Unlikely start for athletic success

Last updated 15:50 21/07/2008
JUST STUPID: That???s how former Olympic and Commonwealth Games star Dave Norris describes himself for taking up such a bone-jarring sport after being diagnosed with osteo-chronditis. The condition left him in and out of plaster and school for 18 months as a child.

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Former Olympian Dave Norris is one of the most remarkable athletes ever to win international glory for New Zealand.

He collected 28 national titles and shattered 11 records as a jumper and hurdler.

In addition to competing in the Olympics, he took silver and bronze medals at Commonwealth Games.

Yet this 68-year-old Arkles Bay man admits he may have been stupid to have taken up such a bone-jarring sport.

"Really, I suppose, there was no maybe," he says. "I was just stupid."

At the age of seven he suffered pain and weakness in his ankles and was diagnosed with osteo-chronditis.

"Then I was in and out of plaster for 18 months and off school for the best part of a year," Norris says.

"My ankles needed complete rest."

Yet by the time he was 17 his courage and competitiveness – fired by a temperament he describes as "fast and explosive" – had secured him seven New Zealand junior titles.

He was still only 17 when he won his first national senior title – in the triple jump.

That started a streak of success with Norris winning 15 successive senior triple jump titles from 1957 to 1971.

In those days sport did not involve big money. Its participants were dedicated amateurs.

In 1988 Dave predicted that the Olympics in Seoul would be the last truly amateur ones. It was a development he welcomed.

He says the gold medals presented at next month’s Olympics in Beijing, which he’ll be watching avidly, will be won by millionaires.

"And if they’re not millionaires now they certainly will be afterwards," he says.

"That’s good because sports people should be paid for their talent and performances in the same way as stars such as Kiri Te Kanawa.

"They bring audiences so much pleasure and entertainment and, yes, they do so much to boost national pride."

But even in his early days in sport he was aware that occasionally fair-sized sums were dished out illegally.

"I remember hearing tales of athletes from overseas being slipped brown paper envelopes in the dressing-rooms afterwards," he says.

"There was a 400-metre runner who pulled out with a hamstring injury after 300 metres.

"The story goes that he complained his envelope contained only $300 instead of the promised $400 and how it was pointed out that he’d run only 300 metres."

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Ending his competitive days in March 1978, Norris competed at five Commonwealth Games, winning the triple-jump bronze at Cardiff in 1958 and the silver at Perth in 1962.

He also competed at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

He was greatly admired as a coach and repeatedly managed our national teams in international events including the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.

Eventually he returned to his original career as a teacher and was deputy principal of Rangitoto College before becoming principal of Glenfield College.

He was chief executive of Basketball North Harbour and helped create the Millennium Institute of Sport and Health, the world-class centre for sporting excellence at Mairangi Bay, where he also served as chief executive.

Norris continues to coach youngsters at the institute’s NorthSport Academy.

Years ago he and wife Lee lived at Red Beach, where they originally had a bach, and he describes himself as "a closet Hibiscus Coast fan".

That’s why he was keen to move back here early this year from Albany.

- North Shore Times

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