Alexis Pritchard – the first New Zealand female boxer to win an Olympic bout, in London 2012 – recalls watching a swimming legend with her grandpa, being overwhelmed by the haka, and her message for boxer David Nyika, in the Memory Games Q&A with LockerRoom writers who’ve been to the Olympics.

What was your very first Olympic memory?

My first vivid memory is of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. I was 12 years old. My Pa and I were sitting in our usual spots on the red velvety sofas in my grandparents’ home in Kensington, Cape Town, South Africa. 

We were watching the swimming – the final of the women’s 100m breaststroke. South African Penny Heyns was the favourite for the race. I’d never really been exposed to such elegant and powerful swimming before.

Penny was exceptional in the water, and she became the first female athlete to win both the 100m and 200m breaststroke at an Olympic Games. Our Standard 5 class did a big project on those Games, so I remember them fondly. 

Penny Heyns (green cap) became South Africa’s first post-apartheid Olympic gold medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Photo: Getty Images. 

It was also probably the first time I fantasised about being an athlete and going to an Olympic Games. But I very quickly dismissed those thoughts as “crazy kid” ideas. I remember thinking “Alexis, you are far too skinny, you have zero muscle, and you are ok at the sports you do, but not great. Let’s just focus on getting good grades. Being an athlete is not meant for you”. 

I didn’t think about being an athlete again for a very long time. I knew I loved sports, I loved moving my body and I loved the way it made me feel.  But I pretty much closed off my mind to the possibility of being an athlete in the future. 

– What have been your favourite Olympic moments – first watching from afar and then being there?

My mum and I moved to Auckland in January 2000. That year’s summer Olympics in Sydney was a blur. Moving to a new country comes with its own set of challenges, and my mind was not focused on what New Zealand as a nation was achieving yet.

But fast forward to 2004 and one of my favourite New Zealand Olympic moments: the Hamish Carter Bevan Docherty one-two at the Athens triathlon.  I remember feeling so nervous throughout the race and the excitement of watching them finish was epic.

Hamish Carter (left) and Bevan Docherty celebrate winning gold and silver in the 2004 Olympic men’s triathlon. Photo: Getty Images. 

The Olympic moment that holds the most special place in my heart, though, was in 2012, when Cam (my coach) and I walked around a corner in the athlete’s village and there, in front of the two tower blocks of the New Zealand team accommodation, stood members of the support team and other athletes.

We heard the call of the pūkāea as we walked towards the team, a powerful moment of silence and then the explosion of the haka. I’m tearing up as I write this. It’s taking me back to the feeling of being overwhelmed, the feeling of belonging.  I knew, in that moment that I AM a New Zealander and even though I wasn’t born here, I felt the significance of our collective culture. The beauty of it and the mana it possesses. It was magical; I felt like I was coming home.

– What is your dream scenario to play out in Tokyo? 

My dream scenario is that those of us at home, and around the world, acknowledge the courage and bravery it takes to perform as athletes. And for us to be kind, empathetic and supportive in our comments – online, in conversations, in interviews and in print. 

We (the athletes) work for a very long time to achieve the Olympic dream.  We don’t all meet our own expectations for whatever reason. There will be 339 gold medals awarded in Tokyo, and there are 11091 athletes expected to compete. Only three percent of athletes will “win”.  Most athletes will “fail” in front of a global audience. 

Alexis Pritchard turns the camera on the media at a London Olympics press conference. Photo: Getty Images. 

Let’s hold our athletes up for the intrepid journeys they’ve been on to get there; let’s get behind their courage, and support them when they feel the emotional assault of not achieving their goals. Let us not tear them down when they are most vulnerable.

Let’s be better to each other. Hopefully we can all be understanding of setting a big goal and working towards it. My dream is that we are kind, empathic and supportive and place our athletes down gently.   

“The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well” – Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games

– What event are you most looking forward to?  

There are so many, I feel it would be remiss of me to only choose one!  And totally unfair, with so many epic and amazing exploits at an Olympic Games. So I give you a “Lex’s Smorgasbord of Favourites.”

Tokyo Olympics boxer David Nyika and London Olympics boxer Alexis Pritchard. Photo: Getty Images. 

In no particular order:

  • Watching David Nyika in the boxing ring. Witnessing him living his dream is going to be pretty special. As a boxing teammate of mine, I’ve seen him mature as a person and athlete over the last 10 or so years.  I remember when he was a pipsqueak and now, we have this wonderful man who is so down to earth and an athlete who has made a plan and forged ahead.  (David, when I see you next will not be a “proby” – probationary Olympian – anymore). 
  • The gymnastics – so beautiful.
  • The swimming – is nostalgic, it takes me back to sitting on the sofa watching sports with my grandpa.
  • And just generally watching and supporting ALL our New Zealand Olympians and hopefully see them embracing the experience and having fun while they do their thing. 

Alexis Pritchard is a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist and the first NZ woman boxer to win an Olympic bout. She now empowers people to live courageously as a mindset and performance coach.

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