News & Updates

28 January 2024 • Track and Field

Christchurch Commonwealth Games remembered

Filbert Bayi sets a world record in the men's 1500m at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games ahead of Kiwi Sir John Walker. Credit: (Getty Images).

Athletics NZ Correspondent Murray McKinnon has been immersed in the sport  for the past seven decades. On the 50th anniversary of the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games, Murray shares his memories of the iconic sporting event.

Fifty years on from calling Dick Tayler, John Walker, Sue Haden and Bevan Smith over the finish line and reporting on the success of Robin Tait and Valerie Young in the field events to covering Jack Foster’s run in the marathon. These are still distinct memories of covering the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games as assistant commentator to radio commentator Murray King.

I was fortunate to be selected as part of the New Zealand radio sports roundup team for the Games. The entire radio and television personnel were accommodated at a motel in Riccarton.

Our commentary position was located in the QE II grandstand opposite the finish line. The television commentators Keith Quinn, John Davies and Les Mills who for some explicable reason had not been selected for the Games, were in the row in front of us. The Games were a pioneering television sports coverage being the first broadcast in colour in New Zealand, led by producer Des Monaghan.

I took out a subscription to Track & Field News in the USA in 1973, in order to be up to date with the Commonwealth athletes performances and statistics. I was a former New Zealand correspondent to the magazine and I have kept the subscription going for the last 51 years.

My most vivid memories from the commentary box are the already well documented Dick Tayler’s spectacular victory on the opening day of athletics in the 10,000m and the men’s 1500m final.

Murray King’s race call still rings clear with Filbert Bayi’s devastating front running tactics and John Walker closing in over the final 150 metres. As Bayi crosses the finishing line I exclaim “and it’s a world record”.

Walker was also under the world record in taking the silver medal.

Another memory is of Alan Pascoe of England celebrating his Gold Medal in the 400m hurdles by running back down the track and tripping over the hurdles as he attempted to hurdle them from the wrong direction.

I covered the marathon from a radio car with horse race commentator Reon Murtha. We followed the race reporting back at regular intervals to the radio broadcast. Jack Foster showed age was no barrier by winning the silver medal in 2:11:19 aged 42 behind England’s 24 year old Ian Thompson who recorded a Games record of 2:09:12.

Over nine days from 25 January 1974 we reported on 468 athletes from 35 nations who competed in 37 events, 23 for men and 14 for women. A total of five Commonwealth, 30 Commonwealth Games and one world record were set in athletics.

The opening ceremony with Steve Allen’s Games theme song “Join Together” brings back lasting memories:

“Once in every four years, the Commonwealth becomes a unit to which everyone, from everywhere belongs. They gather in a place that’s named, this time it’s in Christchurch and getting it on together play sport with a feeling that should surround the earth.”

And the large choir seated above the back straight burst into song with a rendition of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s What the world needs now is love. Truly inspiring.

It was capped off with Sylvia Potts as the final baton runner carrying the Queen’s message around a lap of the track and presenting it to the Duke of Edinburgh.