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Iconic Masterton games remembered in book

‘Living Chess’ is the highlight for the author of a new book on the 1963 Golden Games to be launched tonight.

Wairarapa archivist Mark Pacey has written ‘Moments of Glory’ the first of two books to commemorate the Golden Games, which were held in Masterton in 1963 and 1965, attracting some of the world’s top sportspeople, including athletics greats Sir Peter Snell, John Davies, and Australian legend Ron Clarke.

The three raced in the golden mile in front of a packed crowd at Queen Elizabeth Park Oval, with Davies winning, ahead of Clarke in second and Snell third.

Cricket, basketball, tennis, surf lifesaving and squash were among the other sports that attracted international and national performers.

As well as the big names, though, there were many not-so-common events, and one – ‘Living Chess’ – stood out for Pacey, who said that it added a unique aspect to the games between New Zealand champions Rodney Phillips and Ortivin Sarapu.

“Two guys sitting at a table playing chess wouldn’t make a very good spectator sport, but each move they made was replayed on the stadium floor by people in full costumes acting out the moves, and when they were taken out, they would fall down dead, and St John’s would come on and put the player on the stretcher and carry them off,” Pacey said.

Another was the ballroom dancing, which drew a surprisingly large crowd to the War Memorial Stadium.

“Weirdly enough, the ballroom dancing, which went until well past midnight, was pretty much sold out, and no one left; even though it went well into the wee hours, everyone stayed and watched the whole thing.”

The idea for ‘Moments of Glory’ came after Pacey had been working at Wairarapa Archive for about six months, and someone brought in a collection including some memorabilia from the Golden Games.

“I came across this five or six years ago and thought I wanted to do something with this one day and then just shelved it.

“It was supposed to be one book of about 100 pages and mostly photos, and it then became two books with 200 pages, each with heaps of info and all sorts of other stuff as well, and as we dug into it, I thought let’s give this justice and do it properly, let’s not do a tiny little one, let’s do a decent job of it,” he said.

“The whole reason that I did want to do it in the first place is that this sort of production never happened. At the end of an Olympic Games, they had the official book with results and photos, but they never did that for the Golden Games.”

The book recognises the foresight and effort of Masterton’s public relations officer Len Bergman, who had moved to the town after 10 years in a similar role in Auckland.

“It was his idea and he orchestrated the whole thing and went way out of his way to make it happen. His job was to bring positive attention to Masterton and how to bring people to the town, and it worked.”

Despite the success of the major events, there were others where participants outnumbered spectators, and what was meant to be a biennial event, folded after the 1965 edition.

    ‘Moments of Glory’ will be launched at 5.30pm at Paper Plus, and will be on sale from tomorrow in local bookshops.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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