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Sporting Heroes Win Olympic Selection

Sporting Heroes Win Olympic Selection

A legend of New Zealand athletics has been picked to join two "unsung heroes" of sport at next month's Olympic Games in Athens as winners of a nationwide search by New Zealand Olympic team sponsor, VISA, to find New Zealand's true sporting heroes.

Acclaimed as one of the greatest athletics coaches of all time, Arthur Lydiard has been chosen, together with a North Shore solo mother and a Wellington man, as VISA Sporting Heroes for 2004.

Agnes Rountree from Glenfield, Auckland has spent 20 years as a volunteer raising money for North Harbour basketball, and assisting a programme involving over 6000 young miniballers. And Grant Quinn from Lower Hutt gave up his job two decades ago to form the Special Olympics movement in New Zealand, which now has 35 regional committees and involves over 3000 athletes.

The three were all independently nominated for the awards, and will travel to Athens together with the individuals who successfully nominated them. The judging panel comprised New Zealand's most successful Olympic athlete Ian Ferguson, his son and fellow Olympian Steven, Anna Lawrence, New Zealand's most capped hockey player and athlete liaison officer for the New Zealand Olympic team at Athens, and Classic Hits radio host Murray Lindsay.

Belinda Leonard, Country Manager for VISA New Zealand said the three were selected from more than 800 nominations.

"VISA was searching for the "real heroes" of New Zealand sport, and we were deluged with nominations from a remarkable range of people from throughout the country."

The search for unsung heroes is an excellent extension of VISA's sponsorship of the New Zealand Olympic team. We are proud to support our elite athletes and also to recognize those who bring the joys and benefits of sport to New Zealanders of all ages and abilities."

Ms Leonard said the judges had decided on an inspiring mix of winners.

"Agnes (Rountree) and Grant (Quinn) are truly unsung heroes, with an amazing record of working behind the scenes for many years to help sportspeople at all levels in New Zealand. Of course Arthur Lydiard is a household name for many New Zealanders, but many believe that he has not been truly acknowledged for the contribution he has made to athletics in this country.

"We are delighted the judges have chosen to recognize Arthur as one of the VISA sporting heroes. It is a fitting reward for his many years of dedication to New Zealand sport.

Ian Ferguson said, "Choosing the final three nominees and their nominators to travel to Athens has been a very difficult decision. There were so many well deserving Kiwis who have given immense support to an Olympic sport."

Note to editors:

Karen Hunter who nominated Arthur Lydiard, said she did so because to her and many other Kiwis he is one of the greatest athletic coaches New Zealand has ever seen.

"He developed a rudimentary training system now used by leading coaches and athletes all around the world, in track and field and many other sporting spheres. Arthur has been one of the staunchest supporters of New Zealanders and their bid for Olympic Gold," said Karen.

"Greats like Bill Baillie, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee and Peter Snell were all destined for greatness with the help of Arthur's coaching and advice.

"It would be a great moment in this country's history if Arthur was able to attend this international event and represent New Zealand once again. He is our true unspoken champion!" added Karen.

In 1984 Grant Quinn met four intellectually disabled swimmers and coached them to a level to enable them to attend the International Special Olympics in America. This was New Zealand's first team to attend the International games. While in America Grant made the commitment to return home and start forming Special Olympics teams. It is for this reason that Nevil Paterson nominated Grant.

"Grant gave up his job in insurance and devoted the next year or more to establishing 35 regional committees and involving over 3000 athletes in the programme while his wife Wendy supported the family. He remains a trustee of the organisation he founded and is involved both at a local and national level and has recently accepted the task of organising the 2005 National Games in Christchurch," said Nevil.

Finally, Graham Wheadon has known solo mum Agnes Rountree for 20 years and chose to nominate her as an unsung sporting hero.

"As a volunteer she primarily has run the entire fundraising activities for North Harbour Basketball. She sold sausages and toasted sandwiches and raffle tickets in the early days and more recently has run the canteen at the North Shore Events Centre.

"She coordinates other volunteers to help her. Each year she raises approximately $10,000 which is distributed to the junior representative teams and those players who make National Squads. Among the Olympians she helped when they were younger were Sean Marks and Kirk Penney. She is an incredible lady and I have much admiration for her," added Graham.

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