As the United Kingdom celebrates Black History month, we look at some of the Commonwealth Games global superstars who have made an impact on and off the field.
Black History Month is celebrated to honour the contributions, achievements, and struggles of Black people throughout history. It provides a dedicated time for us to recognise and celebrate their cultural, social, economic, and political impact on society.
Here at the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), we champion unity, diversity, and equality, and advocate for social change through sport.
The extraordinary feats of athletes like Dame Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis, and Daley Thompson have not only captivated the world but also served as powerful beacons of inspiration for athletes and young individuals worldwide. Their remarkable achievements, driven by unwavering dedication and talent, embody the core values of the Commonwealth Games: Humanity, Equality, and Destiny. In addition to these luminaries, the legacy of black athletes in the sporting world stands as a testament to the incredible strides made in the pursuit of excellence. Legends like Usain Bolt, whose electrifying speed and record-breaking performances have forever etched his name in the annals of athletics, and Hasely Crawford, whose historic triumph in the 100m final at the 1976 Olympics remains a source of pride for Trinidad and Tobago, continue to inspire generations, reinforcing the notion that with determination and skill, any obstacle can be overcome.
History is not set in stone, as more facts and knowledge are discovered so it grows and develops. What may have been seen as acceptable at one stage, must be challenged. Must be questioned.
For Precious McKenzie, questioning and challenging were the foundations of an incredible life, where he took a stand against apartheid in South Africa and, against the odds, became one of the most successful athletes in Commonwealth Games history.
Born in Durban, South Africa in 1936 Precious McKenzie’s birth was not recorded because he was "coloured”.
He never knew his father who was killed by a crocodile leaving his mother unable to look after Precious and his sister Gloria.
Despite this adversity, he emerged as a remarkable figure in the world of weightlifting, leaving an indelible mark on the sport. His journey was deeply influenced by the turbulent backdrop of apartheid-era South Africa. Fueled by his passion for weightlifting, McKenzie made a pivotal decision to leave his homeland when denied opportunities to represent his country in major international competitions like the Empire Games and Olympics due to the discriminatory policies of apartheid.
However, he went on to represent England at three consecutive Commonwealth Games - winning Gold medals at the 1966 games in Jamaica, the 1970 games in Edinburgh and the 1974 games in Christchurch. He clinched his fourth Commonwealth Games Gold in 1978, this time representing New Zealand.
One of the defining moments of McKenzie's career occurred during the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. Legend has it that the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were delayed for an official engagement because the Queen was adamant she would stay to watch McKenzie secure his third consecutive gold medal in weightlifting. This illustrates not only McKenzie's extraordinary talent but also the widespread recognition and admiration he garnered for his prowess in the sport.
A captivating photograph captured McKenzie holding the legendary Muhammed Ali on his shoulders, epitomizing the respect and camaraderie he earned from fellow athletes. This iconic image symbolizes the universal admiration for McKenzie's remarkable athletic abilities and his impact on the world of sports.
Following his experiences in Christchurch, New Zealand, McKenzie decided to make a significant life change by emigrating to the country. There, he was offered the opportunity to serve as a weight trainer in a gym. Settling in Auckland, McKenzie continued to compete and astound the world. At the age of 42, he won his fourth Commonwealth gold in the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, now proudly representing New Zealand.
In 2006, Precious McKenzie received a well-deserved tribute from his birth country. He was inducted into the South African Sports Hall of Fame, a testament to the enduring legacy he built through his extraordinary achievements in weightlifting and his role as a trailblazer in overcoming adversity.
Precious McKenzie's life story is one of determination, talent, and the power of sport to transcend boundaries, leaving an indelible mark on the world of athletics.