Commonwealth Games: McKenzie valued by 3 nations

Precious McKenzie: Under 5ft. Picture: Getty
Precious McKenzie: Under 5ft. Picture: Getty
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IF you were asked to name a South African who competed for England, you might start thinking cricket. Told he went on to represent New Zealand, you could be forgiven for thinking about a rugby ­connection.

But Precious McKenzie was neither a cricketer nor a rugby player. Precious McKenzie was a weightlifter, whose remarkable story won him affection well beyond the usual confines of his sport.

Born in Durban in 1936, he had the talent to represent his native South Africa at the ­Olympic and Commonwealth Games but was denied because of apartheid. He became a British citizen, and first made his mark on the international stage in 1966, when he won gold for England in the ­Commonwealth Games in Kingston.

In 1968 he represented Great Britain in Mexico City, the first of three Olympics in which he would take part. By the time the Commonwealth Games came to Edinburgh in 1970, he was one of the best-known sportsmen in the UK, and his victory for England was celebrated almost as much as a Scottish win would have been.

That was partly because of his surname, but principally because his lifting feats were barely credible. At two or three inches under 5ft, he seemed to be attempting the impossible every time he came on stage to take on a massive weight – yet almost every time he ­succeeded.

In Christchurch in 1974, McKenzie made it three Commonwealth golds in a row, even though he had moved from the bantamweight to the flyweight division. While in New Zealand, he got the opportunity to become a trainer in a gym, so he left his factory job in England behind and settled in Auckland.

By the time the Games were held in Edmonton in 1978, ­McKenzie had qualified for his adoptive country, and he duly made it four Commonwealth golds in a row.

He stayed on in New ­Zealand after retiring from competition, becoming an advisor on injury prevention.