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The Most Famous

ATHLETES from New Zealand

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This page contains a list of the greatest New Zealander Athletes. The pantheon dataset contains 3,059 Athletes, 29 of which were born in New Zealand. This makes New Zealand the birth place of the 36th most number of Athletes behind Austria and Latvia.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary New Zealander Athletes of all time. This list of famous New Zealander Athletes is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of New Zealander Athletes.

Photo of Peter Snell

1. Peter Snell (1938 - 2019)

With an HPI of 48.99, Peter Snell is the most famous New Zealander Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 33 different languages on wikipedia.

Sir Peter George Snell (17 December 1938 – 12 December 2019) was a New Zealand middle-distance runner. He won three Olympic gold medals, and is the only man since 1920 to have won the 800 and 1500 metres at the same Olympics, in 1964. Snell had a relatively short career as a world-famous international sportsman, 1960–1965, yet achieved so much that he was voted New Zealand's "Sports Champion of the (20th) Century" and was one of 24 inaugural members of the International Association of Athletics Federations Hall of Fame named in 2012. A protégé of the New Zealand athletics coach Arthur Lydiard, Snell is known for the three Olympic and two Commonwealth Games gold medals he won, and the several world records he set.

Photo of Yvette Williams

2. Yvette Williams (1929 - 2019)

With an HPI of 45.33, Yvette Williams is the 2nd most famous New Zealander Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 24 different languages.

Dame Yvette Winifred Corlett (née Williams; 25 April 1929 – 13 April 2019) was a New Zealand track-and-field athlete who was the first woman from her country to win an Olympic gold medal and to hold the world record in the women's long jump. Williams was named "Athlete of the Century" on the 100th anniversary of Athletics New Zealand, in 1987.

Photo of Neroli Fairhall

3. Neroli Fairhall (1944 - 2006)

With an HPI of 42.97, Neroli Fairhall is the 3rd most famous New Zealander Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Neroli Susan Fairhall (26 August 1944 – 11 June 2006) was a New Zealand athlete, who was the first paraplegic competitor in the Olympic Games.

Photo of Jack Lovelock

4. Jack Lovelock (1910 - 1949)

With an HPI of 42.22, Jack Lovelock is the 4th most famous New Zealander Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 23 different languages.

John Edward Lovelock (5 January 1910 – 28 December 1949) was a New Zealand athlete who became the world 1500m and mile record holder and 1936 Olympic champion in the 1500 metres.

Photo of Murray Halberg

5. Murray Halberg (1933 - 2022)

With an HPI of 41.42, Murray Halberg is the 5th most famous New Zealander Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Sir Murray Gordon Halberg (7 July 1933 – 30 November 2022) was a New Zealand middle-distance runner who won the gold medal in the 5000 metres event at the 1960 Olympics. He also won gold medals in the 3 miles events at the 1958 and 1962 Commonwealth Games. He worked for the welfare of children with disabilities since he founded the Halberg Trust in 1963.

Photo of John Walker

6. John Walker (1952 - )

With an HPI of 38.79, John Walker is the 6th most famous New Zealander Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 24 different languages.

Sir John George Walker, (born 12 January 1952) is a former middle-distance runner from New Zealand who won the gold medal in the men's 1500 m event at the 1976 Olympics. He was also the first person to run the mile in under 3:50. In more recent years, Walker has been active in local government, as an Auckland Councillor and representing the Manurewa-Papakura ward.

Photo of Laurel Hubbard

7. Laurel Hubbard (1978 - )

With an HPI of 37.52, Laurel Hubbard is the 7th most famous New Zealander Athlete.  Their biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Laurel Hubbard (born 9 February 1978) is a New Zealand weightlifter. Selected to compete at the 2020 Summer Olympics, she was the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympic Games. Prior to making her Olympic debut, Hubbard achieved a ranking of 7th in the IWF's women's +87 kg division.

Photo of Dudley Storey

8. Dudley Storey (1939 - 2017)

With an HPI of 36.31, Dudley Storey is the 8th most famous New Zealander Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Dudley Leonard Storey (27 November 1939 – 6 March 2017) was a New Zealand rower who won two Olympic medals.

Photo of Valerie Adams

9. Valerie Adams (1984 - )

With an HPI of 34.87, Valerie Adams is the 9th most famous New Zealander Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 37 different languages.

Dame Valerie Kasanita Adams (formerly Vili; born 6 October 1984) is a retired New Zealand shot putter. She is a four-time World champion, four-time World Indoor champion, two-time Olympic, three-time Commonwealth Games champion and twice IAAF Continental Cup winner. She has a personal best throw of 21.24 metres (69.7 ft) outdoors and 20.98 metres (68.8 ft) indoors. These marks are Oceanian, Commonwealth and New Zealand national records. She also holds the Oceanian junior record (18.93 m) and the Oceanian youth record (17.54 m), as well as the World Championships record, World Indoor Championships record and Commonwealth Games record. Adams was the third woman to win world championships at the youth, junior, and senior level of an athletics event, following the feats of Yelena Isinbayeva and Jana Pittman. She was the first woman to win four consecutive individual titles at the IAAF World Championships. Adams had a winning streak that extended to 56 wins at elite-level competitions, which started in August 2010 and ended in July 2015. She was the IAAF World Athlete of the Year in 2014 and the Track & Field News Athlete of the Year in 2012 and 2013. She had the longest shot put performance of the season every year from 2006 to 2014, bar 2008 when she was second to Natallia Mikhnevich (later banned for doping that year). Adams won silver medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics (amended to a gold after prior winner Nadzeya Astapchuk was disqualified for doping), 2016 Summer Olympics, 2005 World Championships in Athletics, and the Commonwealth Games in 2002 and 2018. She was also a bronze medallist at the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships. While still a teenager, Adams was a finalist at the 2003 World Championships in Athletics and the 2004 Summer Olympics. At national level, she has won fifteen shot put titles at the New Zealand Athletics Championships between 2001 and 2018, as well as having a hammer throw national title in 2003. Adams also won four times at the Australian Athletics Championships between 2004 and 2008. From 2006 to 2012 she was chosen as the New Zealand Sportswoman of the Year seven times consecutively and has been awarded the Lonsdale Cup on five occasions in recognition as the leading national athlete in an Olympic sport. Adams retired from athletics competition in 2022. In that year she was appointed to the board of High Performance Sport New Zealand, and was the subject of the documentary Dame Valerie Adams: More than Gold.

Photo of Joe Earl

10. Joe Earl (1952 - )

With an HPI of 34.10, Joe Earl is the 10th most famous New Zealander Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Athol John "Joe" Earl (born 1 October 1952) is a former New Zealand rower who won two Olympic medals. Earl was born in 1952 in Christchurch and grew up on a farm in Hawarden in North Canterbury. He received his education at St. Andrew's College, where he started rowing under Fred Strachan. As Strachan was one of the national rowing selectors, Earl was picked ahead of more experienced oarsmen (according to his own statement) for the New Zealand eight that was to contest the 1971 European Rowing Championships. The eight won gold, to the surprise of everybody, at the regatta in Copenhagen. At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich he teamed with Dick Joyce, Wybo Veldman, John Hunter, Lindsay Wilson, Tony Hurt, Trevor Coker and Gary Robertson and Simon Dickie (cox) to win the gold medal in the eights. He rowed with the men's eight in the 1975 World Rowing Championships in Nottingham, Great Britain, and won a bronze medal. At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal he again crewed the eight which this time won the bronze medal. His crewmates this time were Alec McLean, Ivan Sutherland, Trevor Coker, Peter Dignan, Lindsay Wilson, Tony Hurt and Dave Rodger and Simon Dickie (cox). Earl's father died on his way to Munich. Whilst doctors had advised against travel due to a weak heart, his parents went nonetheless and his father died when they were in Italy. Earl still went ahead with the competition, and Strachan remarked later that "he still performed". The funeral had to wait until the rowers had returned to New Zealand. Joe Earl took over his father's farm until 1992. Afterwards, he was farming at Blackball on the West Coast. He then went into real estate and was at first branch manager in Rangiora. Since about 2009, he has sold real estate from Christchurch for PGG Wrightson.

Pantheon has 29 people classified as athletes born between 1910 and 1996. Of these 29, 22 (75.86%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living athletes include John Walker, Laurel Hubbard, and Valerie Adams. The most famous deceased athletes include Peter Snell, Yvette Williams, and Neroli Fairhall. As of April 2022, 9 new athletes have been added to Pantheon including Laurel Hubbard, Joe Earl, and Bevan Docherty.

Living Athletes

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Deceased Athletes

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Newly Added Athletes (2022)

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Which Athletes were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 7 most globally memorable Athletes since 1700.