Hitler’s Bout with a Pātea Boxer
Clarrie Gordon’s 1936 Olympic battle may have been short lived, with a defeat in the first round to Finnish Featherweight boxer Åke Karlsson, but his most infamous bout was with Adolf Hitler himself.
The Pātea born and bred boxer Clarence ‘Clarrie’ Edward Gordon, March 9, 1917 – November 19, 1983,was the youngest participant in the 1936 New Zealand Olympic team in Berlin. He was just 19 years and 156 days when competition began while the eldest New Zealander was Gold medal-winning athlete, Jack Lovelock, who was 26 years and 212 days old.
As part of the boxing programme at the 1936 Summer Games Clarrie fought in the featherweight division; this accepted boxers of up to 126 pounds or 57.2 kilograms. The competition was held from Tuesday, August 11, to Saturday, August 15, and Clarrie was one of twenty-four boxers from twenty-four nations in competition. When the German Chancellor made a brief surprise visit to the Olympic Village during the competition Clarrie was persuaded to show the Nazi leader his famous right hook. Clarrie demonstrated this by tapping Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader, on the chin. The rest, as they say, is history.
Clarrie was one of seven boys in a family of ten children, with six of the brothers taking up boxing professionally. Four of them won provincial titles and all were taught by one of the most respected men in New Zealand boxing history, their father ‘Pop’ Gordon. Clarrie’s twin brother, Viv, was also a good fighter and although he was dogged by injuries, he still managed to win seven provincial titles and was runner-up in a national championship.
Clarrie gained the first of his three amateur titles in 1932 at the age of 15 when he was beaten at only one tournament. After two defeats at the hands of much older opponents Clarrie set out for the National Championships at Hastings in 1934. The field in the featherweight division was probably the most formidable in the history of the tournament. Clarrie not only won against professionals like Billy Aitken, Al Stock and Cyril Smith to claim the national title but he was also awarded the Jamieson Belt for the most scientific boxer. There was little doubt that Gordon was establishing himself as the leader in his weight in New Zealand.
Clarrie turned professional two years after the Olympic Games with an amateur record of twelve provincial titles, three national and one Australasian crown.
In 1944 Clarrie was suspended after a fight with Jim Griffin after being knocked out in the first round. The referee Phin Stone declared the fight as a ‘no contest’ after Griffin landed an accidental illegal strike on Gordon, causing him to be unable to continue.
A transcript from the Evening Post, 30th November 1944 states that “a special meeting of the Council of New Zealand Boxing Association yesterday gave further considerations to the case of Clarrie Gordon (Auckland) who had been suspended following his recent bout in Wellington with Jim Griffin (Wellington) which the referee (Mr. P. Stone) declared to be ‘no contest’. Having taken further evidence including that of Gordon’s trainer, the Council decided to disqualify Gordon for three years. The evidence is to be sent to the association’s appeal committee in Auckland. It is understood that an appeal is being made against the council’s decision”. This appeal was ultimately unsuccessful and the three year ban was imposed on Gordon while Griffin was exonerated and awarded Gordon’s share of the purse.
Following his suspension Clarrie took up fights in Australia where he recorded a series of victories. The Australian lightweight champion at the time, Viv Patrick, had won his title by beating the previous holder, Tommy Burns. Stung by this humiliation Burns entered into a serious training regime and this eventually led to a match with Clarrie Gordon. A crowd of 13,000 packed the Sydney Stadium and were rewarded with a terrific battle. At least 9000 spectators thought the judges were wrong in awarding the fight on points to Burns. Gordon’s share of the gate was almost 1000 pounds, more than he received for eight fights on Kiwi soil.
At the end of his suspension Gordon returned to New Zealand and managed to draw in one of three fights against Queenslander Laurie Peterson, and twice defeated Ian Cruickshank, taking the New Zealand Welterweight title at his second fight. During all these fights his renowned right hook served him well. Had Clarrie’s famous right hook packed more punch when he tapped Hitler on the chin during the 1936 Summer Games perhaps the entire course of history may have been altered – by a boxer from the South Taranaki town of Pātea.
Cameron S. Curd – District Archivist, Aotea Utanganui, Museum of South Taranaki
Clarrie Gordon (b. 9 March 1917, d. 19 November 1983)