Book Review: Long Shots – The greatest underdog stories in New Zealand Sport, by Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_long_shots

Long Shots meets a lot of the criteria for a popular book favoured by the Kiwi public – it’s about sports, championing the underdog, and gritty Kiwi wins on the world stage. It’s a feel good book that is bound to be a great find in the Christmas stocking for the sports-mad person in your family, or anyone who likes a good, true-as story.

The book shares stories old and new, some of which are long forgotten, and others already imprinted on our national psyche. While everyone knows the stories of Burt Munro’s motorcycle speed record set in Utah in the 1960s, and Peter Snell’s gold medal in the 800m at the Rome 1960 Olympics, do you know the story of the 1929 Southland Rugby team, the one about Jaynie Parkhouse’s Commonwealth Gold, or the story about the first Kiwi/Aussie cyclists to feature in the Tour De France in 1928? These are true stories to warm the heart and firmly fix our belief that Kiwis can do anything they set their mind to, with or without number 8 fencing wire.

The 1929 Southland Rugby team were given no chance against the strong Wairarapa team that featured 11 All Blacks in their starting fifteen. They were playing for the Ranfurly Shield and after being smashed by Canterbury and Wellington on their way north for the challenge, they were certainly not the favourites to take the match, but take it they did, in a nail-biting tense game that was to shock to media and the rugby public.

Meanwhile Jaynie Parkhouse, who when competing in the 1974 New Zealand Commonwealth Games, was not even in the running for a medal, going up against 3 strong Australian swimmers (including the world record holder) in the 800m freestyle. With her introduction of a new kicking style, and these swimmers focused on competing against one another, she rocketed down the outside lane to edge out the leading Australian by four-hundredths of a second.


The format of the 1928 Tour de France is still considered one of the toughest in the race’s history, and the story of the brave Kiwi/Aussie team has gone down in Tour de France lore. New Zealander Harry Watson (pictured far left, above) and his Aussie teammates fought out the grittiest of Long Shot’s victories over 3338 miles on outdated bikes – stopping their bikes regularly to change gears by undoing the wing nuts on the rear wheels and manually shifting the chains. Other teams had 8-10 cyclists, our boys were just four. They had no experience of the treacherous alpine roads, and the flat stages were run as exhausting team time trials. Their grit and determination won the support of the French press and the public who would come to cheer them on. The four were sleep deprived, sick with dysentery, dehydrated, had boils and gravel rash, and one was struck by a car. Harry Watson finished 28th overall, with only one quarter of the starters finishing the race. His record still stands as one of our best Tour de France results.

The stories in Long Shots features unassuming, normal Kiwis – the book almost makes you feel like you could just rock up to an Olympic race and win it. However, the book doesn’t often provide much of the back story of the time and effort some of our heroes put into their triumphs. What the stories have in common is a bit of fluke, coupled with heart and courage in the face of disbelievers, that we can identify with and take and apply in our own lives.

by Amie Lightbourne

Long Shots – The greatest underdog stories in New Zealand sport
by Bronwyn Sell & Christine Sheehy
Published by New Holland Publishing
ISBN 9781877505416

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