As the largest (24 athletes) and arguably the strongest New Zealand Junior team head to Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada for the 13th IAAF World Junior Championships, it is worth reflecting on New Zealand’s past experiences at these championships as well as previewing the present team members’ chances and aspirations.
At the last World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, New Zealand was represented by just five athletes – its smallest ever World Junior Championships team.
A total of 12,562 athletes from 216 different countries have competed at a World Junior Championships that have been held biennially since the first World Junior Championships in Athens in 1986. Of all of these athletes, 130 were New Zealand athletes.
New Zealand athletes have won five medals in total: Gavin Lovegrove, (1986 Bronze, Javelin Throw); Joanne Henry, (1990 Bronze, Heptathlon); Shaun Farrell, (1994 Bronze, 400m); Valerie Vili, (2002 Gold, Shot Put); Jordan Vandermade, (2006 Bronze, Decathlon). In addition, 17 other New Zealand athletes have made the final of their event at a World Junior Championships.
The current team is an exciting mix of experienced international athletes coupled with precocious youth.
Angie Smit is contesting her second World Junior Championships, having just failed to reach the final in the 800-m in Bydgoszcz, when she finished 4th in her semi-final. Given her recent form, she must be in with a real chance to make the next level this time.
Six of the current team competed at the World Youth Championships in Bressanone, Italy in 2009. Kerry Charlesworth finished 9th in the Pole Vault, Leesa Lealaisalanoa was 9th in the Discus Throw, Fraser Wickes, 5th in the 400-m; Tom Walsh, 6th in the Shot Put and Alex Jordan making the semi-final of the 400m. Unfortunately Joseph Miller was disqualified in the 100-m but has vowed revenge for that in Moncton. If they all can make the final again this time round it will cement their potential to be amongst the world’s best.
Experience at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India, in 2008 for six of the current team members also augers well for Moncton. In Pune, this year’s team captain Liz Lamb was 1st in the High Jump; Anna Roche was 1st in the 800m; Aaron Pulford, who is currently ranked in New Zealand in every event from 800m to the Half Marathon, finished 11th in the 5000m; Matthew Robinson was 7th in the 400m, Frazer Wickes, 5th in the 400m, whilst Glenn Ballam ran in the heats of the 1500m. They each have the potential to again make an impact on the world stage.
For the first time in memory, a number of New Zealand athletes will go head to head in the same event at a World Junior Championships. Rivalry amongst team members at this level is healthy and tends to bring out the best in both competitors. In Moncton, Jacko Gill and Tom Walsh will both be competing the Shot Put, Siositina Hakeai and Leesa Lealaisalanoa both contest the Discus Throw whilst Liz Lamb and Keeley O’Hagan renew their rivalry in the Women’s High Jump, Rebecca Greene and Hannah Newbould should both be competitive in the 1500m, whilst Anna Roche and Angela Smit square off in the 800m.
Of the women, only Caroline Mellsop in the 3000m Steeplechase, who is making her international debut, Laura Nagel (3000m), Kristie Baillie (400m), Kerry Charlesworth in the Pole Vault, and Ayla Gill, who returned to New Zealand from her scholarship in the USA to finalise her preparation in the Hammer Throw will be New Zealand’s sole representative in their event.
Competition amongst the men for the two individual 400m births and the four spots on the 4 x 400-m Relay team is intense, with Scott Burch, Alex Jordan, Joseph Millar, Mathew Robinson, Tama Toki and Frazer Wickes, all vying for a place on the Relay team – such is the depth of the 400m event at this level in New Zealand at present.
Joseph Millar, however, is assured of his place in the 200m event whilst the others battle it out for the individual 400m berths.
One of the most intriguing events on the programme could be the Men’s Shot Put where both Jacko Gill and Tom Walsh will renew their record breaking rivalry. If each pushes each other for the dominant position, then we could be in for a performance of epic proportions from both of them.
Glenn Ballam in the 800m and stepping down from his preferred 1500m; Michael Cochrane in his preferred 400m Hurdles and Aaron Pulford in the grueling 10000m will each have the “luxury” of not being challenged by another New Zealand athlete!
Although the World Junior Championships are a major focusing event and the final event of their junior careers for most athletes, five of the current team are eligible to compete at the 2012 World Junior Championships; Jacko Gill, Keeley O’Hagan, Siositina Hakeai, Rebecca Greene and Kerry Charlesworth, whilst Siositina and Jacko are eligible to compete at next year’s World Youth Championships, while Jacko will compete at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in September!
There will be some New Zealand athletes who are hoping that their performances in Moncton will be good enough to qualify for October’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Liz Lamb has already secured her place on that team. Their experiences at this World Junior Championships will stand them in good stead for future endeavours.
Whilst looking at international ranking lists and performances of other athletes prior to a World Junior Championships may be a useful exercise, caution must be heeded. At this level there are always a number of “bolters”. There is a feeling that this year a number of the bolters will come from New Zealand.
This current team, going by recent performances, with a number of age group records and a number of personal bests in the lead-up competitions, has the potential to be our best ever performed team at a World Junior Championships.
The World Junior Championships run from Monday 19th July to Sunday 25 July. Results can be found at www.iaaf.org or daily updates of New Zealand athletes’ performances will be posted on www.athletics.org.nz
Steve Hollings is Athletics New Zealand’s Statistician. He is currently studying for a PhD with the thesis title “The transition from elite junior athlete to successful senior athlete – Why some do, why others don’t: Implications for development programmes.
Athletics New Zealand
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