As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Christchurch 1974 Commonwealth Games, we profile some of the extraordinary athletes who participated in the 'friendly Games'.
Precious McKenzie’s incredible life started with challenges when he took a stand against apartheid in South Africa, but against the early odds, he 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.