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Defence Force Sports: A Year in Review

World Championship medals, national titles and shattered records. We look back on some of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF)'s sporting highlights of 2023, showcasing the talent, discipline and determination required to excel across sport and service.

14 December, 2023

Leading Aircraftman Sarah Lockwood knows how to dig deep.

The winner of the 2023 NZDF Outstanding Sports Award has had a phenomenal canoe marathon racing season, highlighted with two national titles in the K1 and K2 discipline.

She then pitted herself against the world’s best at the World Championships in Denmark, placing 13th.

 “Never give up on your sport when you join the services,” she says, crediting the Air Force for supporting her build up to the World Championships. 

Captain Laura Bayfield and Private Leah Miles

Captain Laura Bayfield and Private Leah Miles

The services’ proud rugby traditions continued throughout 2023, from the Defence World Cup in France to women’s international test rugby.

NZ Army’s Private Leah Miles formed part of the Super Rugby Aupiki winning Matatū squad, who beat the Chiefs Manawa in the Grand Final.

Fellow Army Captain Laura Bayfield, and the RNZAF’s Corporal Hayley Hutana both represented Canterbury in the Farah Palmer Cup, just missing out on the title to Auckland.

CAPT Bayfield and PTE Miles were rewarded with a first ever Black Ferns XV selection.

Captain Laura Bayfield Black Ferns XV action Private Leah Miles

This year also saw New Zealand play host to the inaugural WXV competition, a landmark moment for the women’s game, where the NZDF were again represented with Sub Lieutenant Kate Williams donning the red Welsh jersey of her homeland.

The Defence Blacks fell just short of a top three placing at their World Cup in France, losing to the combined might of the United Kingdom’s forces 24-12 in the 3rd place play-off.

NZDF women’s hockey team

NZDF women’s hockey team

The NZDF women’s hockey team made history with an historic first trans-Tasman series win over their Australian rivals.

Two drawn games set up a thrilling winner-takes-all finale, which saw the New Zealanders stun their opponents 3-0 in the decider.

The men’s team fell just short of making it a clean Kiwi sweep, losing their final match 3-1.

Sub-Lieutenant Annie Arlidge

Sub-Lieutenant Annie Arlidge

There’s no stopping Sub-Lieutenant Annie Arlidge, who smashed the service’s cross-country record by a remarkable seven minutes this year.

Her form carried over to national competitions too, with the Tauranga-born runner winning a trio of medals at the National Track & Field Championships in Wellington, including gold in the 3,000m steeplechase, before taking out the 10km title at the Cross Country and Relay Championships in Taupō.

She’s hoping to be selected for the cross country World Championships in March next year.

Leading Aircraftman Jono Maples also lit up the track this year, winning the 400m hurdles at the internationally acclaimed Cooks Classic meet in Whanganui, before bagging a maiden national title at Wellington’s Newtown Park, where he won the 400m hurdles final by two clear seconds.

Invictus 1 v2 Invictus 2 v2 Invictus 4 v2

2023 Invictus Games

Leading Physical Training Instructor Jack Church broke his own 100m sprint record at this year’s Invictus Games, with a time of 12.05 seconds dominating the field in Dusseldorf, Germany.

His gold was one of five medals won by the 21-strong contingent of NZDF athletes.

Flight Sergeant Stacey Adam (discus and indoor rowing, silver) Army’s Staff Sergeant Melissa Hansen (powerlifting, silver) and Navy’s Able Communications Warfare Specialist Paulette Doctor (table tennis, bronze) were the other athletes to step on the rostrum. 

Able Combat System Specialist Deanne Read

Able Combat System Specialist Deanne Read

Navy’s Able Combat System Specialist Deanne Read represented the NZDF at the recent Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands, winning silver in the boxing ring.

She dominated her semi-final, knocking down her Samoan opponent twice in the opening round, but then lost a points decision to Australia’s Caitlin Parker in the gold medal bout.

ACSS Read is also on the long-list for Olympic qualification in Paris next year.

Leading Aircraftman Bailey Jeffery Leading Aircraftman Bailey Jeffery Stu Pearce left

Leading Aircraftman Bailey Jeffery represented New Zealand at the International Taekwon-Do World Championships in Finland, where he placed an impressive third in the Individual Male Special Technique classification.

And Wing Commander Stu Pearce won six medals, three of them gold during a remarkable year on the bodybuilding circuit.

Those results saw him earn a ticket to Las Vegas for the Olympia World Champs in November, where he placed 12th in the Men’s Pro Classic Physique Masters.

He says competing against the very best in the world was “a humbling, but hugely rewarding experience.”

The NZDF was proudly represented by athletes across many other disciplines, including inter-service competitions held around the country, that could not be included here.

Pursuing sporting passions is not only welcomed within the NZDF, but actively encouraged as it provides a competitive environment where individuals can test and hone their skills, strength, resilience and leadership abilities, while fostering a sense of togetherness and camaraderie.

For more of what our NZDF athletes have got up to, and to make sure you don’t miss out on their amazing achievements in 2024, be sure to follow the NZ Defence Force Sport page on Facebook, as well as our three service magazines.