Barbara Kendall became the sole New Zealand gold medallist at the Olympic Games in Barcelona when she won the windsurfing competition. She was at the time only the second New Zealand woman to win an Olympic gold, 40 years after Yvette Williams in 1952. She is one of three New Zealand windsurfing gold medallists, the others being her brother Bruce who won at the 1988 Games in Seoul and Tom Ashley at Beijing in 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 organised races. The sport was first introduced to the Olympics at Los Angeles in 1984, with Bruce Kendall winning a bronze medal in that year.
Barbara had competed successfully in various small-boat class championships as a child before taking up windsurfing as a 16-year old. A year later she got 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 her four World Championship victories.
After Barcelona, Barbara went on compete at five Olympic Games, winning silver at Atlanta in 1996 and Bronze at Sydney in 2000. She was made New Zealand Sports Woman of the Year in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2002. In 1992 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 retiring 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. In July 2011 she was elected a member of the IOC and serves on several of their 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)