25 Jul 2014

Golden Pliers

From Country Life, 9:29 pm on 25 July 2014

Nick Liefting in foreground still in the running after years of competition
Nick Liefting (in foreground) still in the running after years of competition

Nick Liefting’s opponents thought they might have the jump on him in this year’s Golden Pliers competition. And it wasn’t because he was the oldest in the event.

The 59-year-old had a titanium knee put in six months ago and those competing against him thought it might slow him down. It didn’t.

Nick, who has been competing in the New Zealand farm fencing championships for 39 years, has for the past 27, been  the first to finish. He’s won the national title a couple of times but his goal each year is to be the first off the line and to make it through the heats to the finals.

The Golden Pliers competition is held annually at the National Agricultural Fieldays. Competitors erect a fence and which is judged on quality, appearance, tension and its ability to withstand a two tonne load. Judges scrutinise each staple, fencepost, knot and wire.

This year 23 competitors, some not long out of school, were vying for the eight spots in the finals.

Nick says qualifying for the final is a huge thing in itself. “There’s a lot of kudos attached…. Being a Golden Pliers finalist says it all because if you have been a Golden Pliers finalist, you are good.”

The final is an endurance event that takes up to six hours to complete. Contestants must put up a 50 metre long fence with two strainer assemblies, 15 posts, nine wires and 40 batons. They must also hang a gate.

There have been just 12 Golden Pliers winners in the past 46 years. Some people have made the final 20 or more times.

Nick, a fencing contractor from Bombay near Auckland, says he doesn’t practice for the big event. “Because in the earlier years we honed out skills by working this way, it’s a bit like riding a bike, you don’t lose it.  The only thing that is important is fitness.”

Nick goes to the gym every day. “I treat it as a sport and a challenge.”

Next year, Nick’s 40th time taking part in the Golden Pliers, will be his last.

Last month eight of the country's top fencers sweated their way through a gruelling six hour event to see who could erect the strongest, straightest and tidiest fence. Finalists this year ranged in age from their early 20s to 59 and the competition was fierce.