Sports

How New Zealand quietly became a throwing powerhouse

Our Olympic throwing future looks bright, says ex-athlete Madeleine Chapman, thanks to an incredible generation of young discus, hammer throwers and shot putters going very long over the past few years.

Last week I went to the Auckland Track Challenge in Henderson, the first time I had attended an athletics meet without competing. It was strange to watch athletes I had trained alongside throw while sitting in the stands. After quitting the javelin in 2014 due to injury and lack of passion, I started writing.

Last week it was clear that my absence was not felt. The level of talent amongst today’s athletes is astounding. I bumped into my old coach, Didier Poppe, while watching the women’s shot put. He made a half-hearted attempt to get me to return to javelin then asked me what I was doing these days and, more importantly, what I was doing there.

“I’m reporting,” I replied.

No one has ever looked at me with such pity before.

But I didn’t even care. I was too excited about how many world-class throwers we have here in little old New Zealand.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 25:  Tom Walsh competes in the Men's Shot Put final during the Auckland Track Challenge at The Trusts Arena on February 25, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Tom Walsh breaking the NZ Residents record like he used to break timber (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

For so long it was just Valerie Adams and Beatrice Faumuina. Over the past decade, these two have stood alone as actually-really-good field athletes from New Zealand. New Zealanders don’t seem to mind that we never have more than one or two serious contenders in the field events. Valerie Adams’ dominance has easily sated our need for overachievement in all areas of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

They helped replace the incredible middle distance runners who were once our athletic heart. If his predecessors are anything to go by, Nick Willis – perhaps our last in that tradition – is set to soon commence an uninspiring stint on the Auckland Council.

But what about the throwers?

First Beatrice retired, and all we had was Valerie. And people started to wonder what would happen when Valerie retired.

Worry no more. In the last five years there has been a phenomenal surge in throwing talent here in New Zealand, so much so that it may become our staple. The number of New Zealand throwers competing at an international level is incredible and bodes very well for Rio and future Olympic Games. Just take a look at the increase in throwing standards from 2008 to 2015.

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Note the range of athletes in the 2015 results. Barring Lauren Bruce, who has clearly got a knack for rotating, there aren’t many female throwers dominating in multiple events. It is so promising to see such depth in this new crop of throwers. There ain’t no Ana Pouhila’s popping up in every field event to claim a podium position.

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There are a lot of ’90s kids in the 2015 rankings which means they’re only just getting started. I should note that for a long time I thought Tom Walsh was in his thirties and to find out that he is 23 makes me question everything I thought I knew. Also, special shout out to Philip Jensen for holding the national hammer throw title for 17 consecutive years before finally being topped by young Matthew Bloxham last year, at 47 years of age. Legend.

No fact illustrates this better than the improvement in distance. The best thrower in the country in 2008 (besides Philip Jensen who should have been at the top of the rankings that year) wouldn’t even come close to the top three of 2015.

It’s not hard to figure out what brought about such drastic improvements on the field. Thanks to coaches like Didier Poppe (Auckland), Kirsten Hellier (Auckland), Ian Baird (Christchurch), Matt Dallow (Auckland), Raylene Bates (Dunedin), and Shaka Sola (Wellington), throwing programmes all over the country are growing and developing both elite and amateur throwers from a young age.

Thanks to the commitment of these coaches and many more towards the development of young talent, amateur athletes are breaking onto the world stage and showing New Zealand to be a throwing powerhouse.

So: who will we be watching in Rio come August?

Shot Put – Men

Jacko Gill and Tom Walsh have both thrown over 20.50m and qualified for Rio, meaning for the first time in a long time we will get to see two New Zealanders go head to head on the Olympic track (or field).

Shot Put – Women

Despite a shaky start to her Rio campaign last week in Henderson, Adams is confident that she will be ready for glory come August. It is worth noting that on her second throw, she released the shot and it went on a straight downward trajectory. It still went 18.35m. I think she’ll be fine.

Javelin – Men

Stuart Faquhar has a habit of throwing well when no one is watching, and then 45m (or a bit more than that) in front of a crowd. At Nationals this weekend he will be chasing an Olympic A standard. I propose we all turn our backs when he is throwing out of respect for his process.

Hammer Throw – Women

Julia Ratcliffe broke her own New Zealand Residents record over the weekend with a throw of 69.27. With a ‘B’ qualifying standard of 71m and over three months to get there, a trip to Brazil is not out of the question.

Discus – Women

Another dynamic duo, Te Rina Keenan and Sisositina Hakeai are both closing in on the 61m ‘B’ standard for Rio. With PBs of 60.78 and 59.81 respectively, expect to see these two a lot in years to come.

BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 24:  Te Rina Keenan of New Zealand competes in the Women's Discus qualification during day three of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium on August 24, 2015 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Te Rina Keenan is spinning out in the best way  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Three throwers have already qualified and another four are within realistic striking distance, making Rio 2016 a chance for New Zealand to field (get it) its largest Olympic throwing team ever.

After years of standing alone in the field with the hopes and dreams of a nation on her strong shoulders, I’m sure Valerie will be glad to have company.

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