It is a tough thing to decide on the greatest NZ sportsman. The main candidates for me are:
Bob Fitzsimmons (boxing world title)
Anthony Wilding (tennis wimbledon 2x)
Denny Hulm (formula one champion)
Ivan Mauger (speedway champion 6x)
Bob Charles (golf British Open and others)
Colin Meads (All Black)
Peter Snell (athletics 3 gold medals; other records and titles)
Winton Rufer (soccer)
Michael Campbell (golf US Open and others)
Mark Sorenson (Captain NZ Softball team for 2 World Titles plus one other)
Russell Coutts (sailing America's Cup 3x; Olympic gold)
Richard Hadlee (cricket)
Mark Todd (equestrian 2 Olympic Golds; heaps of other titles)
Danyon Loader (swimming 2 Olympic Gold; 1 silver; world titles, world records)
Ian Ferguson (Kayaking 4 Olympic Gold; 1 silver; world titles)
Paul MacDonald (Kayaking 3 Olympic Gold; 1 silver; 1 bronze)
How do you choose between these legends? For me it can be narrowed down to:
Denny Hulm (formula one champion): this is so tough to win!
Peter Snell (athletics 3 gold medals): a freak, retired young, world's best in his field at the time by a country mile!
Russell Coutts (sailing America's Cup 3x; Olympic gold): we underestiate this guy because he was not "loyal"; but surely what he has done is unbelievable! And more may be yet to come.
Richard Hadlee (cricket): awesome, as good as there has been from in a weak cricketing nation!
Danyon Loader (swimming 2 Olympic Gold; 1 silver; world titles, world records): underestimated because he does not scrub up well on camera compared to others. No other Kiwi has won an olympic swimming gold! He won two in a tough global sport in the modern era.
Ian Ferguson (Kayaking 4 Olympic Gold; 1 silver; world titles): This guy was a freak. Most Olympic golds and with MacDonald, unbelievable!
Note: Rufer suffers for only playing at the very top once when very young. He did not play much for NZ so hard to know how he ranks at the top of the most competitive sport in the world. Daniel Carter is en-route to be in this list, if they win the 2007 world cup and he plays a lead role. Ditto for Richie McCaw. Bob Fitzsimmons misses out because it was so long ago and it is hard to know how good he was. Wilding similarly. Mauger misses out because speedway is not a high profile sport. Charles and Campbell miss out because they won only one major and did not kick onto multiple performances. Meads and other rugby players miss out because of the nature of their sport as a team sport and not a truly global game. On the other hand Hadlee was just so good at the top level that he can't be neglected. Paul MacDonald misses out but maybe shouldn't. Todd misses out because he is on a horse in an elite wealth-based sport; but really impressive!
My final Ranking
1. Peter Snell: Never really tested, the best in his generation.
2. Russell Coutts: Could ultimately eclipse Snell, three America's Cups! Unbelievable.
3. Danyon Loader: Undervalued! A great athlete.
4. Richard Hadlee: Glorious performer!
5. Ian Ferguson: May rank higher if the sport was higher profile. He is a true legend.
6. Denny Hulm: anyone who wins this thing is a legend.