Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters believes misunderstanding and a failure of memory is behind Dame Susan Devoy's claim he once told her to lose a few kilograms.
During a press conference he called at Parliament, Mr Peters said he meant the comment as a compliment.
"I said that she was an exceptional sportsperson, because she could win when she wasn't fit, hence she's the best in the world," he said.
"It was patently obvious she wasn't fit."
He wouldn't say whether that was based on a physical observation.
"I made the statement as a compliment," he said. "That would be normal then or now."
A corroboration of Dame Susan's story has emerged from an unlikely source - a 2011 Stuff column from sports journalist Phil Gifford. The same column places the events around thirty years ago - in the late 1980s.
In it, Gifford tells an anecdote of a "life lesson about weight and sport... involving Winston Peters."
He wrote that during a prizegiving speech, Mr Peters told Dame Susan, "I have always admired enormously the fact you can win world titles while carrying so much extra weight."
He wrote that she later asked if he meant the comment.
"Yes, he had. He saw it as a compliment to her fighting spirit."
On Thursday night, Dame Susan called Mr Peters "obnoxious" and said he told once her to lose a few kilograms.
The comments were made during the TP McLean Sports Journalism Awards ceremony.
There were "gasps from the entire audience", Newsroom's Tim Murphy tweeted.
Mr Peters said he was shocked that, at a "time of economic and social concern", this has become a focus.
Strain between Ms Devoy and Mr Peters is long-standing.
In 2013, shortly after she was appointed Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan said she would be keeping an eye on Mr Peters.
He had previously said Chinese immigrants were turning Auckland into a "supercity of sin".
Since then, she has repeatedly called out comments made by Mr Peters, calling his "two Wongs" comment "outdated rhetoric".