Olympics veteran led the way for winter sportspeople

SKIING CHAMP: Wif Hunt at the Waikato Olympians night at Waikato Stadium on Monday.
DONNA WALSH/ Waikato Times
SKIING CHAMP: Wif Hunt at the Waikato Olympians night at Waikato Stadium on Monday.

Wif (Bill) Hunt was a Winter Olympics pioneer for New Zealand and at the age of 79 he is still skiing competitively.

The retired Te Kuiti farmer was one of the Sport Waikato region's Olympians honoured and celebrated in Hamilton on Monday night at one of 17 such functions held around New Zealand to recognise the country's 1111 Olympians to date.

All received special numbered pins and commemorative certificates signed by IOC president Jacques Rogge.

While Hunt is not one of New Zealand's better known Olympians he helped lead the way in getting this country's alpine sports athletes competing at Olympic level and attended two Winter Olympics in 1952 and 1960.

He was also the oldest Olympian attending the Waikato ceremony, along with track and field athlete Maurice Marshall, who went to the 1952 Helsinki Summer Games.

"Oslo (1952) was the first time we'd ever sent a Winter Olympics team away," Hunt said. "There were six of us altogether but one of the girls got rheumatic fever and one of the men broke his arm in training.

"We really went as an exploratory mission to see how high the standard was. The very top skiing nations like Switzerland, Austria, France and Germany, they dominated and all the minor nations, we more or less all competed down at a lower level.

"We learn't a heck of a lot."

New Zealand didn't send a team again until 1960. Hunt, who had beaten by his reckoning about 15-20 skiers in Oslo, was selected again in the team that went to Squaw Valley in California.

All the competitors improved their placings and Hunt cracked the world's top 50 in his specialist downhill event.

But it was not until 1992 that New Zealand won its only Winter Olympics medal to date when Annelise Coberger claimed silver at Albertville.

Hunt was brought up on a farm just out of Te Kuiti and took up skiing while attending Massey University.

"I've never been the same since."

The former multiple national champion, who also had a spell in national and international administration, still competes in masters ski racing and last year went to Canada, clocking 91kmh on a relatively gentle downhill course.

"It was quite exhilarating."

Waikato Times