26 Jul 2016

1992: Winning Hearts and Minds

3:14 pm on 26 July 2016

Golden Moments - Barbara Kendall burst into national prominence by winning gold in boardsailing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and became one of New Zealand's best-performed female Olympians.

Kendall was the first New Zealand woman to win an Olympic gold medal since Yvette Williams 40 years earlier.

Her level of achievement and longevity placed her on the same pedestal, at least, as contemporaries like Susan Devoy and Sara Ulmer.

Kendall, following in the footsteps of her older brother Bruce, took up boardsailing in 1984, when she was 17, as a "fun way to see the world."

She competed first in P class and later Starlings, in which she and her older sister, Wendy, once beat the boys in an Auckland championship.

In 1987, Barbara decided to join the professional boardsailing circuit, finishing eighth in her first year. She was fourth in 1989 and improved to second in 1990.

In the early 1990s boardsailing, and especially women's boardsailing, was very much a minor sport in most New Zealanders' eyes.

Kendall changed all that in 1992 when she claimed the gold medal in Barcelona and her broad smile and down to earth nature made her popular with the sporting public.

It was New Zealand's only gold medal of those Games.

Amazingly, she had suffered a broken wrist earlier that year and had almost given away hopes of emulating Bruce in winning an Olympic boardsailing gold medal.

Fortunately, the Olympic trials were delayed, giving her time to recover and prepare herself, often by training with Bruce and other men.

Her finishes at Barcelona were 1-10-3-2-1-2-6-7-3-3 and she went into the final race knowing sixth place would be good enough for the gold medal. Kendall had to hold her nerve.

Barbara Kendall celebrates after her win at the Barcelona Olympics 1992.

Barbara Kendall celebrates after her win at the Barcelona Olympics 1992. Photo: Photosport

Barbara and Bruce are the only brother and sister duo to have achieved Olympic gold for New Zealand.

Kendall tried valiantly to retain her Olympic title in Atlanta in 1996, where she was the flag-bearer during the opening ceremony, but had to settle for silver.

The Auckland boardsailor completed her set of Olympic medals by winning bronze in Sydney in 2000 - only the third New Zealander to have won medals at three separate Olympics.

When she had her first child in 2001 there was speculation that she might retire.

Instead Kendall came back to be as dominant as ever, regaining the world crown in 2002 at the age of 36 and earning selection for her fourth successive Olympics, with two subsequent second placings at world championships.

She could well have won a medal in Athens in 2004, but finished fifth. She was as good as anyone in the field, but had two devastating results, both times because she crossed the start line too soon. One of the decisions was contentious.

She bowed out of Olympic competition at Beijing in 2008 with a sixth placing, at the age of 40, after becoming the first New Zealand woman to compete at five Olympics.

She retired from boardsailing in May 2010, after 24 years at the top of her game but remains heavily involved in sport.

She was elected an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member in July 2011 and took a place on the IOC Athletes Commission, Woman and Sport Commission and Sport and the Environment Commission.

Kendall won the Halberg Award as Sportswoman of the Year in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002. She won the Lonsdale Cup in 1999.

Kendall was inducted into the International Sailing Hall of Fame in 2007.

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