Barbara Kendall became the sole New Zealand gold medallist at the Olympic Games in Barcelona when she won the windsurfing competition.
She was only the second New Zealand woman to win an Olympic gold, 40 years after Yvette Williams in 1952. She is now one of three New Zealand windsurfing gold medallists, alongside her brother Bruce Kendall (Seoul, 1988) and Tom Ashley (Beijing, 2008).
The windsurfer as we know it today was invented in the late 1960s and the first craft arrived in New Zealand in 1973. In 1980 the New Zealand Boardsailing Association was established and began holding organised races. When the sport was introduced to the Olympics at Los Angeles in 1984, Bruce Kendall won a bronze medal.
Barbara Kendall competed successfully in various small-boat classes as a child before taking up windsurfing as a 16-year-old. A year later she won the bronze medal at the 1985 ISAF Women’s World Championship and in 1987 she won gold at the Production World Championships in Sweden, the first of four world championship victories.
After Barcelona, Barbara competed at four more Olympic Games, winning silver at Atlanta in 1996 and bronze at Sydney in 2000. She was chosen as New Zealand Sportswoman of the Year in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2002. In 1992 she was awarded an MBE for services to windsurfing. In 2007 she was chosen as one of six original inductees to the International Sailing Federation Hall of Fame.
In a SailWorld.com article published shortly after her retirement from windsurfing in 2010, Barbara described what she liked about the sport:
Windsurfing for me was a sport that I was incredibly passionate about. It wasn’t just a job. It ticked all the boxes of being soul-filling. It gave me the freedom to go out on the ocean and just blast away - sun shining and it gave the ultimate freedom of being able to clear your head and get away from the chaos around you. For me it was just the most amazing sport.
Barbara Kendall was the Oceania athletes’ representative on the International Olympic Committee from 2005 to 2008. Elected as a member of the IOC in July 2011, she serves on several of its commissions. In 2012 she attended the London Olympics as both an IOC member and as a coach for the women’s windsurfing RS:X fleet.
Image: Barbara Kendall at Barcelona (BarbaraKendall.co.nz)