Precious McKenzie (Photo: Scratched)

Scratched: Why Precious McKenzie wanted to lift for New Zealand

From being barred from competing in apartheid-era South Africa to being embraced by his adopted home country, Precious McKenzie’s is a story of perseverance and the importance of knowing your value.

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Every Olympic or Commonwealth Games has its cult heroes, athletes who capture the public imagination for one reason or another. In 1974, at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, that athlete was Precious McKenzie.

Standing 145cm (4’9”) tall and weighing a little over 50kg, the South African-born English weightlifter was small even for the flyweight division. But he was also phenomenally strong, lifting over four times his weight to win his third Commonwealth Games gold medal in a row. Add to that his charismatic personality, and New Zealand fell in love with Precious McKenzie.

The feeling was mutual. In New Zealand, McKenzie finally found the sense of belonging he’d been searching for since leaving apartheid South Africa for better opportunities in the 1960s. “I decided, ‘if these people love me so much, why shouldn’t I stay here?’”

By the next Commonwealth Games in 1978, Precious McKenzie was a New Zealander. At age 42, however, his weightlifting career was coming to its end. Any other weightlifter might have retired after winning three golds in a row, but McKenzie wanted to give something back to his adopted country. So he went to Edmonton to try to win one more – this time for New Zealand.

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