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Road to Rio 2016

Following five New Zealand athletes on their paths to the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games.

ANNA GRIMALDI - PARA-SPRINTS AND LONG JUMP

19 October 2016
It is only a little over three years ago since I had my first ever training session, so it’s difficult to comprehend that I now have an IPC World Championship bronze medal and a Paralympic long jump gold medal. It has been a meteoric journey.
Looking back on my Paralympic experience it all seems a little surreal, although from the moment we touched down at the airport and drove through the city of Rio, it was an amazing place.
I competed the day after the Opening Ceremony, so I did not attend the event. But I watched from the athletes’ lounge as many of my team-mates marched around the stadium, it made it all start to feel real and dawned on me the enormity of what I was about to face the next day.
Thankfully, ahead of my long jump final I handled my nerves quite well. I was excited but relaxed.
The competition itself did not go entirely to plan....well, certainly not for the first five rounds. I put together a consistent series. I opened with 5.34m and followed in with a 5.43m another 5.43m and a 5.45m. It put me in bronze, but I had been jumping these distances comfortably and consistently in training so I was really looking for more.
I committed a narrow foul in round five. It felt quite long, but at that point I was getting down on myself, disappointed I was not producing when it mattered most.
I could see my mum, dad and sister in the crowd as well as my team-mates, Holly (Robinson), Caitlin (Dore) and Rory (McSweeney). It was that point Rory (who won a bronze medal in the javelin) come down from the stands to see me. I think he thought I looked disappointed. He said my fifth round jump was awesome. It was way better than the others. He said “you did everything right. you just didn’t run hard enough into the board.”
His words unloosened the shackles and I just went for it with my final effort. I was already in bronze and I had nothing to lose. As soon as I took off I knew the jump was “big-ish” but I had no idea how big. When it flashed up that I had jumped 5.62m, it was a surprise. I had never jumped in the 5.50s in a competition, so to jump 5.62m was quite a shock.
The Cuban girl (Yunidis Castillo)– and previous leader with 5.59m still had one more jump but after it was declared a foul I knew I had won gold. It is really hard to describe my emotions at that point. I was super-happy, but I had never really thought of winning gold before. I felt numb, it was really odd. It was very overwhelming.
That night I didn’t really get the chance to celebrate. I did a couple of media interviews after I got back at 11pm and then it was bed. It was almost like it never really happened. Yet the next day I was recognised by people in the crowd who asked me for photos. That lasted until the end of the Games, which was really cool.
Although my main event was the long jump my competition continued with the 100m and I was delighted to finish fourth in the final. I had started to feel a cold during that event, so I was very proud with my placing, especially as I was ranked outside of the top ten. Unfortunately, the cold worsened and I was put on a course of anti-biotics ahead of the 200m. I was very nervous ahead of the 200m – more so than for any of my events. – but I was initially pleased with how I ran my heat. I had qualified comfortably. I had saved some petrol in the tank for the final the following morning only to be shocked to discover I’d been disqualified for a lane violation. Unfortunately, I was not given the chance to run in the final and I was gutted.
Without doubt my life has changed quite a bit since winning gold and perhaps it will never quite be the same again. I was blown away by the reception given to the Dunedin-based Paralympians. I felt very proud.
People have said what does it feel like to win gold and I am not sure it has even sunk in yet. All I know is I have more competitions to aim for starting with next year’s IPC Athletics World Championships in London on the road to Tokyo 2020. My hope for the future is simply to continue to improve as an athlete.
Anna

ANNA GRIMALDI - PARA-SPRINTS AND LONG JUMP

6 September 2016
Just a matter of days from the start of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and I am experiencing the full range of emotions. Sometimes I feel really excited and other times very nervous. Other times I can’t describe how I am feeling – it is like being on a roundabout.
However, what is clear is that the Opening Ceremony will take place on September 7 and the following day I will be in action in the long jump - my key event – and what I have to focus on is producing my very best on that day.
Since my last blog, I’ve been in pre-camp with the New Zealand Paralympic athletics team, which has straddled two continents beginning with 12 days at the Sports Super Centre in Runaway Bay, Gold Coast. The facilities were excellent and although I was without my regular coach, Brent Ward, I just had to make sure I ticked every training box and recovered as well as possible.
We’ve also had a couple of low key competitions while in Australia. On August 12 I ran 27.35 for 200m and leapt 5.25m for the long jump, which was okay, while the day before we flew out to leave for San Diego we had another competition in Brisbane.
Unfortunately, this competition did not go so well. I did set a New Zealand record of 13.13 for the 100m, but the long jump competition was a bit of a disaster. I jumped 5.20m, which was a reasonable opening jump, but my next two jumps were awful, and for whatever reason I just did not find my rhythm that day.
We did, however, receive a real boost watching the Kiwi athletes in action at the Rio Olympics. We were glued to the TV watching Eliza win pole vault bronze and the day we flew out to California we saw Nick win his 1500m bronze, which was cool to watch. To know that we too will be in that stadium, running, jumping and throwing as part of the New Zealand Paralympic athletics team is very inspiring.
The moment we landed in San Diego has been nothing but a positive experience. We were based out the US Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and the facilities are amazing. The track is on hand while the swimming pool is a short drive down the road. The food hall is fantastic with an impressive buffet and a chef on hand to cook pancakes or burgers and the weather here has been perfect too.
It is also something else to be surrounded by world-class athletes. Some of the US Paralympic team are here and the other day I was chatting to a guy called Joaquim Cruz, who I only found out the other day won the 1984 Olympic 800m title. I was losing my mind when women’s Olympic long jump silver medallist Brittney Reese walked by and I later grabbed a photo with her. Then later that day men’s Olympic long jump champion Jeff Henderson walked into the dining hall. Will (Stedman, fellow New Zealand Paralympic athlete) and I were awestruck, we couldn’t believe we were eating lunch with an Olympic champion!
My final stages of preparation have gone well. I believe I am fitter and stronger than ever a fact that was confirmed to me when I jumped very well in a mock competition here the other day – without official wind gauges – which fills me with confidence ahead of Rio.
We’ve read a lot about what we might face at the Rio 2016 Paralympics Games, but it is important not to become too distracted. I think we have to accept because of Brazil’s economic problems they will probably me some hitches. But I have total faith in our team manager Raylene Bates that she will help organise things to run as smoothly as possible. All that really matters, is that I arrive at my events on time and in the right head space.
I’m avoiding attending the Opening Ceremony because I am competing in the long jump the next day before later in the schedule lining up in the 100m and 200m. I never like to put an expectation on myself in terms of a finishing position, but I’d like to make that long jump final, put together a good series of jumps and maybe land a PB. If I can do that then I would be more than satisfied.
Anna

TOM WALSH - SHOT PUT

28 August 2016

Having had some time to reflect on my Olympic bronze medal, I’m immensely proud to have climbed the podium. Initially I was disappointed with my performance. I knew I was in great shape, but didn’t quite manage to “line one up” in the final and I fell a little short of what I wanted to achieve. Having said that both Ryan (Crouser) and Joe (Kovacs), the gold and silver medallists, threw much better on the day with Ryan, in particular, streets ahead. I think it really it only began to sink in that I’d won an Olympic medal when I walked down the stairs having gone through the media zone and I saw my coach, Dale Stevenson. Nothing was really said, but it was clear Dale was pretty emotional and he seemed ecstatic for me. That was the moment, I realised I’d fulfilled a dream to win an Olympic medal, something that I first mentioned to my former cricket coach, Mike Shrimpton, as a 17-year-old. My preparations leading into Rio had gone as well as I could have hoped. In my final pre-Olympic competition in Athens, Georgia I put together a very consistent series with a best of 21.53m, which was probably the easiest it had ever felt throwing that distance in a competition.
I decided to fly into the Olympic Village just five days before the competition. I tried to limit my time in there because sometimes life can be a bit monotonous with people asking you the same questions of when do you compete and how do you feel. But thankfully, with the likes of Stuart (Farquhar), Nick (Willis), Steve (Willis), Dale (Stevenson) and Scott (Goodman) there I had a great bunch of guys I could talk to about other topics other than the competition.
On my competition day, I was genuinely more nervous for the qualification than the final. I think this is because we rarely need to qualify to compete except for maybe once or twice season – so it was a relief to throw 21.03m with my first throw and advance automatically for the final with the second longest qualification throw.
I’m never one to take an easy attitude into qualification. If I do anything by halves I tend to find it is a disaster. I don’t believe in preserving energy in qualification, so I went in there to throw aggressively and if I throw a PB, then fine. Technically it was a bit tight and short but it was job done. I was the first to leave the stadium and rest up in the eight or so hours before the final.
I then returned to the Village spent some time chilling out in the team lounge, eat some food and also receive some treatment and acupuncture on a sore shoulder. Although, it should be added this the shoulder was only a very minor issue and had no impact on the way I threw.
In the final – and knowing I was in great shape – I was probably pushing a little too hard, this was certainly true of my first couple of throws what my old coach Ian Baird would have said: “I was pushing the river rather than letting it flow”
In round three, I then launched one out to the 22m line but my foot got stuck on the stop board after one of my recovery throws and I couldn’t quite save it. I was red-flagged, which was very frustrating. If that throw had been legal it could have really opened the floodgates for me. But it wasn’t to be, in round five I pushed past Franck Elemba of the Democratic Republic of Congo into bronze – which I was confident I always would do – but I just couldn’t get loose. I knew I was great shape, but I probably wasn’t in the same rhythm as I was at World Indoors and everything required that bit more effort.
I accept Ryan threw magnificently well on the day but maybe I could have pushed him a little closer, but hats off the Crouser as he threw really well when it counted.
After my competition I went back to the media centre to do a series of interviews, which were wrapped up at 2.30am. I then got back to a hotel for one beer before getting up at 10am the next morning for more interviews.
The following day, I then watched Eliza won her bronze medal and make the kind of breakthrough I’d made at the 2014 World Indoors when I also won bronze – except with Eliza she won her breakthrough bronze on a bigger stage. The final night of track action in the stadium saw Nick Willis become the oldest man to ever win an Olympic 1500m medal.
I was proud to be a part of a successful Kiwi team which can hopefully go from strength and strength in future. As for me, well in the short term I know I am great shape and I hope that will be reflected in my performances over the final few weeks of the season. Yet as proud as I am to win Olympic bronze, it has acted as a huge motivation for me to want more and to come back and win the gold at Tokyo 2020.
Tom

***Following Tom’s latest blog he threw a New Zealand and Oceania record of 22.00m at the Paris Diamond League, extended it to 22.20m at the Zurich Diamond League to win the overall shot put Diamond Race and then added another centimetre to the record in his final competition of the year in Croatia. His national record now stands at 22.21m.

CAMERON FRENCH - 400M HURDLES

29 July 2016
I’m gutted to have to write that my hopes and dreams of making the 2016 Rio Olympics have been dashed. My final opportunity to achieve the 400m hurdles A qualification standard of 49.40 in Oordegem earlier this month ended in disappointment.
As I crossed the finish line that day in 50.55 it felt like my whole world had collapsed. Months, if not years, of hard sweat and toil fighting to achieve my long-held desire to be an Olympian was frustratingly put on hold for at least another four years.
After a commiseration session myself and a couple other Aussie boys, who had also missed out on Rio, decided to shake the mood with a late entry into the long jump competition.
Now although I’d never long jumped in my life, and even though I was half-a-metre behind the board, I still jumped 6.39m, which wasn’t too bad. When we wandered over to the long jump pit I think the main official was wondering why we were entering the competition as we’d clearly just run the 400m hurdles and didn’t look the part. Yet as the competition progressed, the official realised we actually weren’t too bad and she joked with us that we should consider an event change.
To be honest, I don’t have any real technique, preferring the old method of run fast and see what happens but in all seriousness competing in that long jump that night offered a much needed light relief to help mask the pain and disappointment of having missed out on Rio.
Having now had more time to reflect on my quest to win a place at the Rio Olympics, I am proud of my efforts. Okay, I might not have ended up with my ultimate goal, but everything happens for a reason and I’ve taken some great learnings from the past year.
I started the year in the best shape of my life and had done everything I could to be where I needed to be but, unfortunately, during the domestic campaign, I suffered an Achilles injury – which was to prove the worst of my career. This then led to some other issues so I take some satisfaction from bouncing back to rack up a series of low 50-second 400m hurdles races plus one sub-50 second time (Cam ran a season’s best of 49.87 in Brussels).
Having said that I am frustrated. I know I made mistakes in certain races. Technically I could have run better and given another day and a fair wind I think I could have had a more serious crack at achieving the qualification mark.
Yet I leave Europe next month with many fond memories. It was fantastic to discover many new places, to meet lots of great people and to race against some top quality competition.
I am a huge fan of watches, so one highlight for me was winning a Tissot watch for finishing second at the La Chaux-de-Fonds meet in Switzerland.
Camille (Buscomb, Cam’s girlfriend) and I have learned so much about life on the European circuit. About the travel and the races and trying to create an environment as close to home as possible. We’ve learned which races are good and which not so good to enter. It will stand us in good stead in the future.
While we take an end-of-season break to take in Paris, Amsterdam and Northern Italy we can return to training in the next month or so fresh in the knowledge that we will be much better prepared for future challenges.
I wish all the competing Kiwis the very best of luck in Rio. As for me, I’m committed to the next four years and I’m looking forward to returning to training in my mission to qualify for the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London and 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games along the way.
Finally, I would also like to thank everyone who has supported me and followed me on my journey so far.
Cameron

ANGIE PETTY - 800M

21 July 2016
Just two weeks or so from the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics, I’m looking forward to my final pre-Games competition at the London Diamond League this weekend before I finalise my preparations for the big one.
As those of you who have read my previous blogs will know competing at the Olympic Games has been a dream of mine from as long as I can remember, so to be in the verge of making my Olympic debut is hugely exciting.
Since my last blog I have a lot to catch up on. I’ve been based in Europe for almost seven weeks, firstly in Cologne, Germany before moving on to North Devon in England – home of my husband’s parents. I enjoyed my time based in Cologne spending lots of time with some Australian athletes and Liz Lamb, the Kiwi high jumper. But it is great to now be back reunited with my husband, Sam, in North Devon after a month apart. We have enjoyed some great training time together and spent some lovely time with his parents, although we are missing running with our dog Tux though!
I’ve also competed six times in five countries and although some of the performances have been a little mixed - a 1500m PB in Turku and an 800m season’s best time in my last outing in Liege fills me with confidence that I’m rounding into good shape at the right time.
My first three races in Europe were mixed. I started out racing a tactical 800m in bad conditions in Lucerne, Switzerland. After going through in a very slow first lap (64 seconds) I crossed the line seventh in 2:04.62 – which was not the race I wanted.
I bounced back to run much better in my next race in Nivelles, Belgium. There I ran a solid 2:01.86 for third, although I was disappointed with my next two-lap race in Madrid, where I ran 0.06 slower. In temperatures of around 30c, I managed to pass the Cuban girl and get to the front with 350m left, but started to struggle in the final 200m. I was not able to react when the girls went passed me. I finished seventh, but I can take positives from the fact I got myself in good position during the race.
I next moved on to Turku in Finland for my first 1500m of the European season. My endurance training had gone well and it was great to compete in front of a large, passionate crowd. The Australian Genevieve LaCaze did a great pacemaking job, and although I dropped off a little on the third lap, I managed to hit back on the final lap to move from fifth to second and record a PB of 4:07.83 – 0.63 quicker than my previous best. I was very close to the Olympic qualification B standard of 4:07:00 and although I was on the roll down top 45 for the event – which would allow me to qualify for Rio – my coach and I took the decision not to take up the opportunity to compete in the 1500m. This is because the 800m takes place after the 1500m and we didn’t want to jeopardise my 800m hopes. If the two events would have been the other way around then we would have seriously looked at also competing in the 1500m.
Eleven days later I ran seven seconds slower for the 1500m - albeit in very windy conditions in Solihull, England – before moving on to compete over 800m in Liege. I was excited to compete as I was up against a good quality field including American Molly Ludlow (who ran 1:57.68 for fourth in Monaco last week). My travel to the meet before the event had been a little fraught and I only arrived after midnight the day of the race. Thankfully, I slept well and I tried as hard as I could to follow the pace – crossing the line in second behind Molly in a season’s best 2:00.62.
I was both relieved and happy to run a sub-2:01 time. This proves to me everything is heading in the right direction in my desire to reach a peak for Rio.
Training has been going well. Under Maria’s coaching over the past year we’ve slightly increased the mileage, added a few more double runs and put in some marginally longer reps. More recently I’ve carried out some full on sessions with slightly longer recoveries to sharpen my pure speed. I’m also happy to say that earlier this week I recorded a PB for a 600m time trial, which gives me further optimism everything is on track for when it counts in Rio.
I’m also thrilled to receive an invite to compete in the London Diamond League. I have such fond memories of competing there three years ago in what was my Diamond league debut.
At the 2013 edition, it must have been one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever competed in front of and I will never forget meeting Usain Bolt, even if I was slightly starstruck to be staying in the meet hotel around all the other superstar athletes. I enjoyed a solid race to run two minutes flat and place fifth and I loved everything about the experience.
Three years on and although it is still a great privilege to compete in the race and to be around the stars of the sport, I will hopefully not be so overwhelmed by the experience. In terms of what I would like to achieve in London, I have to focus on positioning myself well, finishing strongly and racing fast and hopefully my performance there will act as the perfect springboard for Rio.
I can’t believe we are now so close to Rio. I’m really excited and looking forward to arriving in Brazil. After London, and being reunited with Maria we fly out to Mannheim in Germany to join the New Zealand team in pre-camp before flying out to Rio on August 10. My family will fly to Rio soon after.
I think I’m in pretty good shape at the moment and I hope in the next couple of weeks I can be in the best shape I’ve ever been in for Rio.
What do I hope to achieve?
Well, I need to take it one step at a time. The aim is to make it out of the heat and then if I make the semi-final the ambition is to reach the final. That would be the dream. I love championship racing and hopefully I can deliver my best in Rio and make my country and family proud.
Angie

TOM WALSH - SHOT PUT

18 July 2016
About four weeks out from my competition day in Rio, I feel I’m in a pretty good place. Based out here in relaxed, laid back Athens, Georgia is about as far away from the Olympic hype as I can possible be but I believe it has proved the perfect place to fine tune my preparations for the biggest competition of my career so far.
I’ve spent time training here with Adam Nelson, the 2004 Olympic champion, and Reese Hoffa, the 2007 world champion. It has been great to be around two legends of the sport. I can learn a lot from them. If I ask for help they are willing to give it. I quizzed Adam – who made one last unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the US Olympic team – what he would do differently if he was to have his career again and it was quite telling he said he would not focus as much on the strength game and he would advise not to over-train and focus more on being healthy.
This was smart advice because if you over-train, it impacts on the body and your overall health.
Since my last blog, I have competed twice at the Eugene and Stockholm Diamond Leagues. In Eugene, I was a little flatter than I hoped and I thought I might have a little more in the tank. Still, I managed to compete well. I earned the right to qualify for three more throws and I took some satisfaction from placing second and throwing 20.84m when not at my best.
Stockholm went fairly well. I felt if I had really lined one up I could have got around 21.50m but to win the competition and to do so by throwing consistently well with four marks over 21m (Tom won the competition with 21.13m) was pleasing.
Since returning back to the US my training has gone well. I went through a heavy phase of work, although in the past the last week I’ve moved on to a much lighter phase which should make me much fresher for this week’s London Diamond League.
Life on the road away from New Zealand can be tough sometimes, but I’ve been really lucky to have always had someone around during my time here in Athens. My coach, Dale (Stevenson) was out here for a couple of weeks. My strength and conditioning coach, Angus (Ross), spent a couple of weeks here and my girlfriend, Dana, is with me at the moment.
I am also lucky in that I’ve been staying in an airbnb apartment. I prefer this to a hotel because it gives me my own apartment with a lawn out the back and more freedom to cook my own dinner and relax in a larger space.
Naturally, I’ve been closely following the results from around the world and while the performances at the recent US Trials were impressive with Ryan Crouser winning with 22.11m followed by Joe Kovacs (21.95m) and Darrel Hill (21.63m), where I will have a slight edge on all three guys will be in my championship experience.
Ryan and Darrell have never been to a major senior global championship before while Joe has only been to one whereas I have now been to a couple of World Indoors, a world outdoors and a Commonwealth Games.
Joe and Ryan have probably been the two stand out throwers so far this season and while many people are familiar with Joe after his world championship success last year not many people will know much about Ryan and Darrell. I spent a week training with Darrell out at Penn State last year and he has made a big improvement from being a 20.80m thrower to a 21.60m thrown this year. Meanwhile I first come across Ryan way back at the 2009 World Youth Championships. He struck gold there, whereas I finished placed sixth more than three-and-a-half metres further back so he probably does not remember me!
Still, while keeping an eye on what my opposition is normal I try not to get too concerned. We are still a month out from the Olympics and I think in the next few weeks we’ll get a much better idea of how my key opposition are shaping up ahead of Rio including not only the Americans but the like of Germany’s former world champion David Storl and Commonwealth champion O’Dayne Richards of Jamaica.
A key event for many of the world’s top shot putters will be the London Diamond League and my aim will be to win it and push ahead of Joe in the overall Diamond League standings. I then plan to have one final competitive hit out in Athens, Georgia on August 9 before I fly into Rio.
I know some people might not believe me but even though we are now less than a month from the start of the Olympic Games I’m genuinely not thinking about or focusing too much on Rio. All I can say is that I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m throwing further than I was at this same point last year and I’m confident this will stand me in good stead when it counts in Brazil.
I look forward to catching up next time to report on my Olympic experience.
Tom

ANNA GRIMALDI - PARA-SPRINTS AND LONG JUMP

5 July 2016
Reflecting back four to the time of the previous Paralympic Games in London, I would never have dreamed back then that I am now just a little over two months away from competing at the Rio Paralympics.

Four years ago I competed in school athletics mainly as a long distance runner, but had no serious ambitions in the sport until I attended a Paralympics NZ talent ID camp in Dunedin in October 2013.

Since that moment athletics has turned my life upside down and set me on an incredible journey – one in which last month I was selected for the Rio Paralympics in the long jump the 100m and 200m.

People have often asked, how do you find out you have been selected for Rio and the process was a little odd. I’d been waiting for confirmation for some time and I was fairly confident given my world ranking. The first suggestion I had booked my place on the team came when I received a number of emails inviting family members to the selection announcement. This was obviously a good indication I was on my way to Rio, but I only knew for certain about half an hour before the livestream of the announcement when I received a confirmation email from Athletics NZ.

It was awesome to finally know I had finally done enough to be selected for New Zealand at the pinnacle event. My mum attended the selection announcement and my dad watched the livestream from Christchurch. It was a great moment and to share it with the five other selected members of the NZ Paralympic athletics team, all of whom I’m super close to, made it even more special.

Obviously, winning selection for Rio was the primary first goal of the year but the main objective, of course, is to perform with pride in Brazil, so since the end of the domestic season I’ve been working hard in training.

One area we have really hard on improving is my strength. I’m naturally weak and in the past gym is something I’ve struggled with and not particularly enjoyed. Yet for the past few months working with my strength and conditioning coach, Michael Jacobs, it has been the most fun I’ve had in the gym! We’ve focused on strengthening my glutes and hamstrings and I’ve managed to make a big leap forward in terms of my strength. I’ve massively improved my PBs for squats, bench press and hip squats.

While my two gym sessions per week have gone well as my coach, Brent Ward, reminds me the strength work is an additional extra and the main work is done on the track and the long jump runway. Thankfully, everything is heading in the right direction. In mid-June, I enjoyed a competition in Gold Coast. I jumped a wind-aided 5.48m – which was seven centimetres better than my legal best. I also had four fouls, but I was really pleased with the way I jumped. Technically all the red flags I received were for marginal fouls, so this is encouraging for future competitions.

I’m heading back out to Gold Coast for six days next Wednesday and will fit in another competition. While I hope to compete well and make some technical gains, it will also be nice to enjoy a few days training in warmer weather. I’m not a fan of the cold – which has made training tough down in Dunedin recently – so a little stint in Queensland will be appreciated.

Beyond that and we will attend a Paralympics Gala in Auckland later this month before we head back out to the Gold Coast on a pre-Rio training camp. We then fly out to San Diego for two more weeks training before Rio.

As time is ticking I am naturally getting more excited about Rio. My mum, dad and sister will be attending and I will launch straight into my competitive programme as the long jump is on the first night of the athletics schedule.

I look forward to catching up next time to talk through the next phase of my Rio preparations.
Anna

CAMERON FRENCH - 400M HURDLES

18 June 2016
I’ve now been training and racing in Europe for the past month and, so far, it has been a big learning experience. It is my first time competing in this part of the world and it certainly offers some great opportunities to compete with top-level athletes, which can only help me in my bid to qualify for Rio.
I am currently based in the Belgian town of Leuven with my girlfriend, Camille (Buscomb), and I would say I slightly underestimated how long it would take the body to fully recover from the lengthy journey from New Zealand.
The trip took 28 hours from New Zealand to Heathrow before travelling across to Cardiff for a week to hook up with British 400m hurdler Rhys Williams and Kiwi 800m runner Katherine Marshall, who are both based in the Welsh city. We then flew into Leuven, but whether the additional flight came perhaps a little soon after the long trip to New Zealand it is hard to say, but I picked up a cold, which really hampered my ability to perform at my best for my first two meets out here in Belgium.
I felt terrible on the day of my race of the European season in Namur. I struggled to get out of bed and considered pulling out of the meet. Yet I decided it would be a good idea to compete as it would at least help blow some of the cobwebs away for what was first race since the Brisbane Classic in March.
After warm up I felt more perky only for the race to then be delayed for 25 minutes, so by the time I took to the starting blocks I felt quite drained again. By the second hurdles my legs felt dead and I ran a modest 52.05 but at least I had a race under my belt.
Three days later I ran in Oordegem, where I ran much more aggressively and went through 200m much faster than in Namur. I ran 51.01, which although it was not the time I was seeking, I felt I was starting to rediscover my running rhythm once again.
One of the themes of the early part of my trip to Europe has been the cold and wet weather we have experienced.
Being based in Leuven has its advantages, it is close to Brussels Airport with good training facilities and is relatively inexpensive but as the main mode of transport is my bike the wet weather has not made life easy. I would be drenched cycling to and from the track, during training and then drenched cycling out for lunch. The kind of weather which did help my recovery rate from a nasty cold!
Thankfully, the weather has slowly improved and since my race in Ooedegem I’ve managed to put in some good training. We are fortunate that close to where we are staying the university provides access to an indoor straight, gym and a track. However, the track is one of the weirdest I have seen. It is basically a circle with only 20m of straight running on either side. This makes training near impossible for most sessions, although, thankfully, down the road there is a track of more regular dimensions.
It is not uncommon to find many international athletes basing themselves out of Belgium during the European season and it has also been good to see quite a few familiar Kiwi athletes based in the town such as Rochelle Coster, Hayden McLaren, Michael Cochrane and Nneka Okpala.
I also spent four days training in Birmingham, where Camille competed in the 5000m at the Diamond League event there. Unusually, the weather in Birmingham was hot and sunny and I managed to put some good training time before moving Switzerland to compete in Geneva – for what was my third race of the European season. As so many international athletes are chasing qualification times the meet put on six heats of the 400m hurdles– and I think I counted 17 athletes across the five heats, who had a sub-50 second clocking.
Once again because of the sheer number of athletes at the meet there was a one-hour delay, but thankfully I performed much better. I hurdled well, won the race and ran 50.20. I competed with a good mindset and my body felt it was moving as it should. I ran 14 strides all the way to hurdle ten, which I was really pleasing. One guy came up to me after the race and said “I’m one of the only guys in the world that has done that,” which although I’m not sure is true, shows both my strength and stride pattern is in good order.
My next outing comes on Sunday at the Brussels Classic meet, where I hope to run quicker again and start to edge closer to that so far elusive Olympic A standard of 49.40. My coach, Criss Strange, has been with me since just before the Geneva meet. I really appreciate him being here and keeping a watchful eye on my progress.
After this weekend I’m a little unsure as to my exact competitive schedule. I have applied for a few races, but not yet heard back, although perhaps most importantly I gained a lot of confidence from the way I ran in Geneva. Both my hurdling and my speed levels are progressing nicely and I am excited for what the future will bring. I’m feeling good at the moment, so in future races it is a case of putting the hammer down and going for it.
Cameron

ANGIE PETTY - 800M

26 May 2016
Just over a week away from flying out to Europe for the next crucial stage of my Rio preparation, I’m delighted to write I’ve enjoyed a good solid block of strength training and also experienced a very handy nine days training and racing in Japan – which included a season’s best performance.

It was a pleasure to travel to Japan. The Japanese people are always so warm and welcoming and their meets are always well organised and well attended. My first meet at the Shizuoka International did not go so well. I still felt heavy-legged from the long flight and I hit the wall in the latter stages with Australian 800m champion Brittany McGowan passing me in the final 100m to win the race. I was disappointed to record a time of 2:03.27 for second, but it was still a good blow out and I could still take learnings from the race.

After the meet we travelled on to the Japanese National Training Centre in Tokyo to enjoy a few days training. There I spent time training with Brittany, and Abbey De La Motte who have become really good friends as well as a lovely Japanese athlete, and the facilities were amazing. Among them were three hills complete with running track of varying gradients, which were perfect for hill sprints and bounding.

Having acclimatised to the conditions I enjoyed several good days of training I arrived in Kawasaki for the World Challenge meet feeling much fresher. I decided not to go out as hard as I had done in Shizuoka, although maybe I went out a little too slowly as I was next to last at 300m and needed to pick up the pace! Thankfully, I finished strongly to cross the line third in a season’s best time of 2:01.70 – just 0.06 behind Brittany, who finished second. It was a much more positive performance and having trained through this period as opposed to tapering in an effort to reach peak performance - I’m fairly pleased with where I’m positioned a little under three months out from Rio.

Overall, it was a genuinely worthwhile trip. I found the excitement of competing in another country acted as a nice break from just training and I was still able to race the annual Hagley relays before going to Japan, where our team of four broke the course record (Rosa, Nicki, Flora, then me).

Meanwhile, it is also great to compete in Japan – a nation with a real passion for athletics. In Kawasaki there must have been around 16,000 spectators and heaps of kids wanted autographs, which was so cute!

It was also in Japan where I decided to change my European base from Belgium to Cologne in Germany following a conversation with Abby De La Motte, the Australian 800m runner. She mentioned they had a spare room in their apartment in Cologne, which she is sharing with fellow Aussie athletes, Anneliese Rubie and Lyndsay Pekin. After a discussion with my coach, Maria, we decided switching to Cologne would be a good move, especially as I have access to training with other quality middle-distance runners.

I will be flying out to Europe on June 4 and I’ve drawn up a calendar of the events I hope to compete in the countdown to Rio. My first scheduled race is an 800m in Lucerne, Switzerland on June 14 before four days later competing in Nivelles in Belgium. I’m then not sure whether I’ll be running in Madrid for the World Challenge meet or at an event in Italy on the 25th. My next confirmed race is the 1500m at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland on June 29. On July 3 Sam, my husband, arrives in the UK and that's when I’ll be moving from my German base to stay with his parents in the South West of England. I then have another 3 or 4 races planned throughout July.

More generally I’ve been impressed with the overall standard of women’s 800m this year and I draw encouragement from some of the early performances. They give me the belief that I can make a big leap forward in terms of the time I can run and at this early stage of the season I shouldn’t be too concerned with the times I have posted.

Overall, I’m happy with how my strength training has developed and I have continued to enjoy training with others from the squad, Sam and our dog Tux. I’m looking forward to travelling to Europe and getting out of the New Zealand winter. The Olympics are now less than three months away. I can feel the excitement building, but it is important not to get too far ahead of myself. I need to focus on training and take each day as it comes. I look forward to writing my next blog from Europe.
Angie

TOM WALSH - SHOT PUT

18 May 2016
I’m writing my latest blog from Phoenix, Arizona having just arrived back from my first Diamond League meet of the season in Shanghai. I'm disappointed to report my back pack was stolen when I was eating some food at LAX Airport, although the thief in question might have been fairly disappointed once they opened the bag.

Fortunately all I had inside was an old pair of throwing shoes, some smelly undies, smelly socks, a smelly a singlet, a pair of sunglasses, the trophy I won in Shanghai and the gift table mats from the same meet, so they are all items I can live without! 

Since my last blog, which came in the wake of my World Indoor success, it has been back to the daily grind of training. I've enjoyed a solid block of work and although I may not have set any PB’s in the gym, I’ve enjoyed some good sets which have been right up with the best I've ever produced. 

While winning the World Indoor title has not been life-changing - and I am still the same guy who simply likes to train hard and throw the shot far – winning in Portland has certainly done my confidence no harm. Yet what fills me with greater optimism is a belief that I know what I need to put in place technically to produce those long throws. Something which I managed to successfully put into practice in my opening Diamond League meet of the season last weekend in Shanghai.

On the subject of Shanghai I was disappointed to learn about the new rules put into place for Diamond League events in which only the top four (it used to be top eight) advanced after the third round to be given a further three throws. I’m not sure the rule switch saves much time and what I think is really unfair is to expect the athletes to fly all the way to China for the likelihood of just three throws. Diamond League events usually contain the top ten to 12 athletes in the world, so to achieve a top four spot sometimes requires a throw of over 21m – tough work. I can’t imagine the organisers stopping a 100m race at half distance to eliminate four from the race. 

I’m all for trying something new, but to not consult the athletes was disappointing. Athletes are under lots of pressure anyway, but this just adds to it, although it is important to be able to handle this pressure.

Thankfully in Shanghai I got out to a good start with a first round throw of 20.79m, although the execution wasn’t quite there with the next four throws, which was frustrating. Thankfully, in the sixth round I made the necessary technical adjustments and I hit the shot out to 21.20m. I was pleased with the distance for my first competition of the season, although I didn’t quite do quite enough to win as American Kurt Roberts hurled the shot out to 21.40m to take an unexpected victory – further evidence of the strength in depth of global shot putting. 

For the next week or so I’m in based out of Phoenix, where I’ll be training alongside two of the top US shot putters Ryan Whiting (two-time World Indoor champion) and Jordan Clarke while former World champion Reese Hoffa will also join us for a spell.

While we won’t be carrying out exactly the same work we will be training at the same time. I find training alongside my rivals motivating and it is also interesting to share experiences and pick up more knowledge.  My next outing will be in the Prefontaine Classic a week on Sunday (May 29 NZ time) before I base myself in Athens, Georgia right through to the Rio Olympics, although I do plan two more Diamond League meets in Stockholm and London before the big one in Brazil.

Since I left New Zealand to fly Shanghai I’ve been getting excited for Rio. I love competing on the world stage and it has been nice to catch up with the guys on the shot put circuit. I love to be away training and competing in the sun and visiting new cities. I’m very lucky. The next couple of months of competitive action will be very interesting as all the top performers will start to reveal their form ahead of the Olympic Games.
Tom

ANNA GRIMALDI - PARA-SPRINTS AND LONG JUMP

12 May 2016
We are now less than four months out from the start of the 2016 Paralympics in Rio and I'm still playing the waiting game in terms of selection. As the selection process is quite complicated, I still don't know for certain whether I have made the cut, but as the first wave of Paralympics NZ athletics selections will be announced on May 23, I expect to find out very soon.
The one-two from the IPC Athletics World Championships have already secured their automatic selection. Yet as I won long jump bronze in Doha, I'm hopeful I can win a slot for my country and earn a ticket for Rio.
I was hopping on the IPC website checking the rankings on an almost weekly basis, but more recently I've stopped doing that. In some respects, I have now done all I can to earn a place. I now just have to wait.

Since my last blog, I completed my domestic season competing at the Australian Championships in Sydney. We stayed opposite Olympic Park and it was awesome to stay with many other members of the NZ Para team.

Disappointingly, I switched off leading into the competition. My main priority had been performing well at New Zealand nationals – one of our pinnacle events of the season – which I did by winning with a wind-assisted 5.44m (note, her legal PB is 5.41m set at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships) and it also didn't help that I was sick with a cold and took a week's break from training in the countdown to the event.

I jumped a distance of 5.21m for fourth in Sydney, which wasn't what I wanted, but I can't dwell too much on the result given the interrupted build up to the competition.
I took a one-day break in training and since then I've been in full winter training mode again, which has been a shock to the system. At the moment, I'm undergoing a strength phase to the programme which is both physically and mentally demanding. I just have to keep focused and remind myself that the hard work will pay off in the long-term and that it will give me an edge in Rio.

At the moment we are doing much longer reps and I think the day I least look forward to is Sundays, which includes lots of running, stair sprints and hills reps. I'm not very aerobically fit, so it is not something I relish. When the legs are so tired they start to shake is not fun!

A difference with this year's winter training compared to last is that some jumping sessions have been introduced as part of the programme. This has been positive because it has kept me in a jumping groove in preparation for Rio. 

Away from the slog of winter training, I'm delighted to be shortlisted for the Junior Sportswoman of the Year award at the Otago Sports Awards on May 20. I was really shocked to be nominated and I'm looking forward to the event because it is one I’ve never attended before.

It is hard to comprehend how far my life as come since I attended a Paralympics NZ Talent ID Camp in October, 2013. Back then I was more of an endurance runner and netball player and I remember one friend at the camp mentioned that I should think about the Rio Olympics, which just seemed crazy to comprehend. At the time I was thinking more of the possibility of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Games and I assumed Rio would come far too soon in terms of my development. Yet here I am and, hopefully, if all goes to plan I will be competing in Brazil - almost three years after attending that camp in Dunedin. It is crazy to think it could be about to become reality.
Anna

CAMERON FRENCH - 400M HURDLES

3 May 2016
It is hard to believe that earlier this week we hit the 100 days to go mark before the Rio Olympics. Time has gone by in a flash and my motivation is as strong as ever to be on that plane with the New Zealand team heading to South America.

Last week after the first wave of athletes were named for Rio it was a nice reminder of the significance of the achievement. It was great to see the likes of Stuart Farquhar called up for his fourth Olympics as well as other friends for their first. I will certainly be doing all I can over the next few months to achieve that same goal and join them on the team.

As readers of my last blog will recall, I struggled with an Achilles/nerve problem during the domestic season. Thankfully, with help from the medical team we have managed to control the issues and although I still need to manage the foot, my Achilles is fine. In the last few weeks this has allowed me to increase the intensity of my training with good speed and endurance session over the hurdles building up my strength and fitness again. 

My final outing of the domestic season in Brisbane last month was a disappointment in terms of the time (51.33). However, I can take satisfaction from the way I performed in the latter stages of the race holding my form and finishing strongly - an area I have been working on in training – to win the race. 

Since Brisbane I took a short break to try and help fix my body and then begin my build up for the next stages of races.
It is hard to gauge my fitness levels at the moment, but I feel I am progressing nicely. I am just thankful I can put in the work without too many problems and I hope to convert that good work into some faster times. 

I was scheduled to race a couple of times in Japan next month but because of the injuries we have decided to recalibrate those plans and instead bring forward my trip to Europe.

It was my intention to fly out to London in June but instead I will travel over there in mid-May, where I hope to initially train again with Welshman Rhys Williams, the former European 400m hurdles champion. I then plan to race twice in Belgium on May 25 and 28 before racing again in Switzerland in mid-June. 

It will be my first experience of competing in Europe and I am buzzing for what lies ahead, to race and live in new environments will be exciting. Technically my hurdling has been going well, I can’t wait to get back on the track and run quickly once more. 

My girlfriend, Camille, and I took a little break at the end of the season, and headed up north for a few days over Easter. We went up to Paihia, Ninety Mile Beach and for the first time in my life I went as far north as Cape Reinga.

The scenery was stunning and it was great to drive on Ninety Mile Beach, see the cape lighthouse and have some cheeky Worlds Best Fish and Chips in Mangonui. Of course, we both managed to keep out fitness levels ticking along by going for runs along the Pandora Track, up to the Rainbow Falls in Kerikeri and around the Kauri Forests. 

Before signing off my latest blog I’d like to mention the retirement of double Olympic 400m hurdles Felix Sanchez. I was shocked to read the news as I thought he was preparing for a tilt at a third Olympic title in Rio but I know he now as a little boy, so he maybe he decided to focus on family life.

At the 2004 Athens Games, Sanchez become the Dominican Republic’s first Olympic champion in any sport and then had to overcome a number of obstacles in his life before regaining the Olympic title in London. He is definitely one of the sport’s greats and someone who has been an inspiration to me in my career so far. I would have loved the opportunity to have lined up against him but wish him well in his next life journey. 
Cameron

ANGIE PETTY - 800M

15 April 2016
Since my last blog I’ve successfully won the 800m at the Auckland Track Challenge, completed the 800m and 1500m double at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships and also rounded off my domestic season with a 1500m outing at the Sydney Classic.

Overall, I’m fairly happy with how my season went. Besides finishing eighth in Sydney, when I was struggling with a virus, I finished the season unbeaten over 800m and 1500m which I have to be satisfied with. I would have liked to have maybe run a sub-2:02 time for the 800m but it was a solid base from which to build and sets me up for my bigger goals ahead leading into the Rio Olympic Games. 

I was delighted to win the double at the nationals championships, which is always a great achievement given the rising quality of middle-distance running in New Zealand. The times were not amazing, but I ended up leading for a large chunk of the 1500m and to run a quick time in the 800m was made a little trickier after the clock malfunctioned, which made it hard for me to gauge my pace at the 400m mark. 

Unfortunately, I picked up a virus with cold-like symptoms shortly after nationals and this impacted on my performance in the 1500m at the Sydney Track Classic. I wanted to end my season on a good note but I felt awful during warm up and I didn’t feel quite right from the start of the race. I finished back in eighth in 4:15 and although this was disappointing, I know I wasn’t at my best, so I can’t have too many complaints.

Immediately following the race I had a one-week end-of-season break to recharge the batteries for the season ahead. This will be my last scheduled break from training ahead of Rio and although I love training I also appreciate the rest of both body and mind. The first few days are spent relaxing as your body tries to catch up from the fatigue of the months of hard training. However, as the week passes I find my energy levels slowly return and I also find I don’t need quite as much sleep as when I'm in full training mode. 

It was also pleasant to have a mental break from attending training sessions and other athletics-related appointments, and it was also nice to have a little bit of a treat at Easter by eating a few Easter eggs! While I don’t recommend over-indulging, it is important for me to have some treats. It gives me something to look forward and provides a welcome break from the typically disciplined lifestyle of an elite athlete. I certainly believe it’s important to make sure you eat enough as your body needs the fuel especially when you are pushing your body to the limit so often.

Since returning to training we are working on further building my endurance while adding in a little more speed and lactate work – although it is important not to add too much speed at this stage as we don’t want to peak too soon ahead of Rio.

I plan to return to competition in early May when I have a couple of 800m races in Japan (Shizuoka May 3 and Kawasaki May 8). These two races represent a good opportunity to gauge my form at this time of year and also to potentially run a faster time than I did during the domestic season. For many of those 800m races here in New Zealand/Australia I was forced to run solo for much of the race, but if I can compete in races with great depth, which I am hoping will be the case in Japan, then maybe this might enable me to run a quicker time.
Post-Japan, I will return to training in New Zealand before heading out to Europe on June 10 to complete the final phase of my preparations for Rio. My competitive plan is still a little sketchy at this stage, although the hope is that I will compete at the Lucerne meet a few days after arriving in Europe and then another four or five 800s and couple of 1500s before going into Rio.

In the meantime, I will continue to work on the basics and one percenters - including the discipline of getting to bed early, improving my time management skills and making good decisions every day, and of course training hard and smart.

Before I sign off my latest blog I am delighted to introduce a new member to the family – Tux the New Zealand Heading dog. Sam and I have wanted a dog for some time but the timing needed to be right because we are regularly overseas due to my training commitments. However, as we are currently living with my cousin, Kelly, - who also wanted a dog and is around to help look after him when we are away – we decided to buy him between the three of us. Tux was not quite good enough to make the grade as a sheepdog, but he makes a lovely pet. Sam and I have both taken him out on runs and the longest he has done so far is 50-minutes. It is always nice to have a new training partner and come to think of it he could well be my secret weapon in the countdown to Rio!
Angie

ANNA GRIMALDI - PARA-SPRINTS AND LONG JUMP

4 April 2016
I’ve lots of news to report since my last blog at the beginning of February. I’ve competed in the second biggest competition of my life, jumped my best ever distance and also put together the most consistent series of competitions in my career, so I have to be pleased with progress on my road to Rio.

On reflection, I really believe I am feeling the benefit of my experiences at IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha last year. Yes, I won a bronze medal there, which was obviously fantastic, but of greater long-term benefit was improving my knowledge of the event and knowing what works for me in terms of how to compete at that level.

That confidence and understanding has allowed me to perform consistently well and, should I secure selection for the Rio Paralympic Games, I hope this will stand me in good stead in Brazil.

Competitively, I’m enjoyed a good past six weeks or so beginning with the IPC Athletics Grand Prix meet in Canberra last month. In terms of the scale of the competition, it was probably second only to worlds. We stayed at the Australian Institute of Sport for a week and it was awesome to be in an Athlete Village scenario, where we lived in the same block as the other athletes and all ate together at the same food hall.
When I compete in Australia I know I will usually face top quality competition in the shape of reigning world champion and world leader Carlee Beattie and although she once again proved a little stronger than me, I jumped well with a best of 5.34m – within just seven centimetres shy of my lifetime best at the time. 

The following week I went on to Porritt Classic and while I was really happy to pick up a PB in the 100m, although the long jump proved frustrating as nothing seemed to click.

Still, I used the disappointment as motivation and in my next competition at the Otago Championships I leapt 5.28m on the Saturday before going out to my second longest ever jump with a 5.38m on the Sunday. The conditions that day were perfect, although both my coach and I were quite shocked about just how far I managed to jump.

It was then all about focusing on the New Zealand nationals, which took place in my home city of Dunedin. It was quite strange to prepare for one of my pinnacle events of the season knowing it was in my home town. Typically, you would be expected to travel elsewhere and I had to make a mental adjustment to cope with this. Of course, jumping at home had several advantages - one of which was the opportunity for me mum and dad to watch me as well as their friends, who in New Zealand at the time visiting from England.

It was especially nice for my parents to watch me because they had to abandon plans to travel to Doha last October after my mum broke he ankle just before the event. It was also cool for them to experience seeing me competing in a big meet because it helps them understand a little more about a world which has consumed me for the past few years. 

I don’t mind admitting that as I lined up for the senior long jump I was a little daunted by the quality of the competition on show. Just looking at the list of opposition I knew I needed to jump very well simply to make top eight. Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill had met in the shot put final just before the long jump and a big crowd had stuck around to watch the long jump, which generated a great atmosphere. Fortunately, I managed to put together a good series and I was pleased with how I handled the windy conditions. My best jump of 5.44m was three centimetres further than my PB – although, frustratingly it won’t count as a PB because a tail wind of 2.1m/s was recorded, just 0.1m/s above the legal limit. However, I can’t be too upset – I’m sure the 0.1m/s made very little difference to the distance I jumped and it clearly shows I am in good form six months out from Rio.

I look forward to catching up again soon when I hope to have a clearer picture of how I'm placed in terms of qualification for Rio.
Anna

TOM WALSH - SHOT PUT

20 March 2016
It is the day after my gold medal-winning victory at the World Indoor Championships and let me tell you it is a fantastic feeling to tap out those words out on the keyboard. 

I’ve been waiting for this day for a wee while and to stand on the podium and see the New Zealand flag sent a shiver down my spine – it has definitely been worth the wait for my first major international title. 

Leading into Portland I knew my preparations - apart from a little blip with a minor hip injury – had gone well and I was pleased to throw 20.91m in Waitakere, which was 92cm further than I’d ever thrown for a season opener before. Then to follow it up with a 21.11m effort to beat Jacko and take the national title in Dunedin and the next day - despite the travel - throw 20.87m in Melbourne was pleasing. 

Yet as satisfied as I was with my first three competitions of the season, I was probably competing a little with the handbrake on. It wasn’t as if I was consciously holding back, I just wasn’t free and really unleashing the shot – which is sometimes the most challenging part of throwing.

Since Melbourne my training has continued to progress nicely and I have to pay a big compliment to my coaching team of Dale Stevenson and Angus Ross, who have put together an impressive training schedule which has allowed me to peak to perfection. 

In training I’d been throwing at or around the mid to high 21m range, so I knew I was in good of shape and my programme has allowed me to feel fresh and able to express myself in Portland. 

Since I arrived I have had a great feel for Portland and the indoor arena here. As I have said in the past, I’m a big fan of indoor athletics. Last night the crowd really got behind the shot and the spectators appeared so close to the action, it almost seems as if they were on the sector line.

Another great element to the night was the way we were introduced to the crowd by running down a chute into the arena. I believe athletics needs to entertain - and although a World Championships needs to be a serious competition - the change in the approach to the presentation of the athletes was welcome. 

Maybe a few nerves crept in as I fired the shot out to 20.38m in round one, but after I got that one out of the way and took the hand brake off the outcome took good care of itself.

I was delighted with my second round throw of 21.60m (an indoor Oceania record) because I knew it would put the pressure on my rivals. Yet what filled me with even greater belief was I knew that there was more in the tank and I all I needed to do was focus on the processes and repeat what I had been doing in training.

I was really pleased with my consistency as I went 21.40m in round three and then out to 21.64m in round four - an improvement on my area record and 2cm further than I’d ever thrown outdoors. My penultimate throw then went out to 21.49m before hitting 21.78m for a world lead and Oceania record and a distance some 16cm further than my old PB (set in Zagreb last year) in the final round.

It was a near perfect competition for me and the only frustration was I fell just 2cm short of my winning my bet with my coach, Dale because we agreed that should I throw a distance of 21.80m or above he would have to grow a handlebar moustache between now and the Rio Olympics. Maybe, I should have got the steel tape a bit floppier when measuring the distance! 

The organisers tried a new approach to the medal presentation which took place outside of the stadium at the Pioneer Courthouse Square – a couple of minutes from the meet hotel. With about 2000 to 3000 people packed in the square it made for a pretty cool setting. It was a very proud moment for me.

Straight after the competition I rang my girlfriend, Dana, my mother and father, my old coach, Ian Baird and John Quinn, my sports psychologist. As you can imagine they were all really happy for me, and that all the hard work my team and I had put in had come to fruition. 

Then last night I celebrated with a couple of beers with Dale, Scott Goodman (Athletics NZ High Performance manager) and my agent, Andrew Stubbs. 

It was definitely a sweet feeling to win gold and it fills me with confidence to know I can throw well in the heat of a major competition. It is a great start to the year and sets me up well for the Diamond League campaign and, of course, the big competition later this year in Rio. 

Tom

CAMERON FRENCH - 400M HURDLES

16 March 2016

Since my last blog, I have struggled with a nagging Achilles issue which has badly hampered my domestic season and at one point I thought it might seriously threaten my hopes and aspirations for the Rio Olympics.

It is pleasing to report to you, however, that the problem has started to ease. I’m now building back to full training again and an encouraging season's best performance in Melbourne earlier this month bodes well for the weeks ahead as I look to chase those Olympic qualification marks.

The not so little gremlin first decided to move in midway through a 250m hurdles session at Porritt Stadium. The irony was I was probably enjoying one of my best ever sessions - both technically and speed-wise - when I felt a sharp pain in my calf, which later transferred to the Achilles region. 

Scans showed that the actual Achilles was structurally fine but I was still left hobbling and the injury was probably a mix between a strain and a nerve problem. I have managed a tendinitis issue in that area for some time, but it was obviously a big blow to suffer the injury at a key time of the domestic season. 

It was hard to know whether or not to work through the pain or to rest it, but with time ticking and with history suggesting it was more likely to help me by working though it, I decided to test the injury by making my seasonal 400m hurdles debut at Porritt Classic. Unfortunately, because of the pain – which is at its worst when I run the bends - I ran a modest 51.74. 

Then the following week I ran what was probably one of the worst races for the past few years when I placed sixth in a time of 53.11 in Canberra. This performance hit me hard.

I am typically laid back but I was struggling with the excruciating pain from the injury and mounting pressure of trying to qualify for the Olympic Games. This was evident when halfway through the race I just wanted to go home. It was an interesting battle for me and one I haven’t experienced before, but since then with the help of my supportive team I feel I have reset my goals and focused on the positives and believe that these setbacks can only make me stronger.

My coach, Criss (Strange) and my girlfriend, Camille, and others reminded me of the great training I had put in during the winter. We re-analysed the season and drew up a fresh game plan.

I was apprehensive to compete at the ATC meet in Auckland due to the previous weeks but with further progress on the left leg we decided it would be beneficial run to further progress. Thankfully, I competed well to finish second in the 400m in 46.88. It was a good feeling to be able to open out again. 

Then in my most recent 400m hurdles outing at the Melbourne Track Challenge, I ran a season's best of 50.57 for second behind Michael Cochrane – another big step forward which had put me back on track. 

My chiropractor Lloyd Buscomb and massage therapist Steve Burden have been my 'lifelines' and although the pain has not completely subsided I am certainly feeling a lot better than I was a few weeks back. 

Last weekend I was further encouraged by enjoying a strong run with James Mortimer over 200m in Auckland and for the first time since the injury I was running back up on my toes.

Following a frenetic past month or so I have started back with my studies in construction management. During the holidays I was able to put some of my enhanced knowledge from last year to the test by helping a mate install a new bathroom and kitchen and I have also had the chance to start making some of my own improvements with landscaping and interior work where I am living. I really enjoy building and designing something and seeing the great results in the final product. 

My domestic season will end this weekend when I compete over 400m hurdles in the Queensland Track Classic in Brisbane. I have decided not to compete at Aussie nationals to prepare myself for races in Japan in May and/or possibly in Europe and beyond. 

Despite the difficult past six weeks or so I have to remain strong in the belief that I can still qualify for Rio. I'm still chasing, still hoping and, most importantly, still believing.

Cam

PORTIA BING - HEPTATHLON

11 March 2016

It’s all about time.

Time is an athlete’s best and worst friend. There is nothing as great as the high when you cross the line in a personal best time. It reiterates that training, conditioning, diet and recovery are well balanced and an athlete can give their best. Throwers are looking for perfect timing in the throwing circle. Long jump is about timing the body movement perfectly to hit the board. But of the seven events I do, timing is the most critical in the hurdles.

Porritt Classic has always been a highlight of my domestic season. Hamilton always puts on a fantastic meeting with good fields and competition. This year was no different.  The hurdle field was strong. I warmed up after a good high jump competition that cemented a lot of the new things I had learnt in South Africa. I was feeling good and went out well but at hurdle seven it all came crashing down. Literally. Hurdle falls at full speed are spectacular. The ground is a long way down when you are nearly six feet tall. In addition I was also protecting an existing hand injury. While I have had falls at training (and broken many hurdles), the last time I fell in a race was in Year 10 at the National Secondary Schools’ Championships in Wanganui.  I rolled over and got up with no serious damage except some rather large bruises. My hurdle timing was all wrong.

Unfortunately for me the timing of the Combined Events Nationals meant I had a short six day turnaround after falling at Porritt.  I spent the week in recovery mode, letting the injuries rest. Not the best preparation for a heptathlon. My whole training programme is set around a couple of key events over the domestic season. Everything is timed so that I am peaking at those events. With my programme thrown out of kilter and carrying multiple injuries, I wasn’t able to finish the heptathlon at Wanganui. In hindsight, there were many red flags thrown up before the National heptathlon but as an athlete in Olympic year it can be very hard to weigh up the cost benefit of competing with multiple injuries. Six rolls of tape may hold you together but sometimes the seventh is one too many. 

NZ is well equipped with medical rehab and support. I have been fortunate enough to have access to this and the people that go well beyond the call of duty. Thanks to this care I am well on the road to full recovery and am now building towards the international season.

Olympics are about inspiring people to go beyond what they believe is possible. Given that this is an Olympic year, athletics has opened many doors for me within the area of social responsibility. I have been privileged enough to have the opportunity to work alongside some wonderful mentors within organizations such as Equal Opportunity Trust and Let Kids Be Kids and others. When not training, I have been fronting campaigns, speaking at engagements and having an input into their overall strategy.  

I love this side of my life, challenging the boundaries of existing social orders and making conscious changes to continually improve standards for all. While many are inspired by our sportspeople, I am inspired by how my generation can utilise our diverse culture to become world leaders both on and off the track. 

Portia

ANGIE PETTY - 800M

1 March 2016
I'm writing by latest blog with blue dye over my hands and legs (ha ha) which I'm struggling to clean off after spending day working as a relief teacher at my pre-school class in Christchurch.

I have been at the school for six years now and the reason for the dye over my body was that the kids were busy making volcanoes in the sand pit. I love my time working with kids. They are full of life and energy and keep me on my toes. I find by time at Rainbow Pre-School offers a nice distraction from my training – for what I know is a big year ahead.

Competitively, I'm fairly happy with how my domestic season is progressing. I ran a reasonably good time (4:13.42) over 1500m at the Porritt Classic and I also claimed my very first win at an Australian classic meet last weekend in Adelaide (Angie ran a 800m season's best of 2:02.42). It is nice to tick off the win and although I wanted to run a little faster, I have to remember it is still February and I know the main aim is to reach a peak in August.

At the moment my endurance is strong and I have total faith in Maria's (Hassan) training that I will be running my quickest times when it really counts later in the season.

Since my last blog, I suffered a slight hamstring tear in my left leg which restricted my training for about week. I sustained it doing kettlebell swings and after it steadily got worse later that day I went to the physio Tamsin Chittock, who revealed I had a grade one tear (the least serious) in my left leg.

Fortunately, the injury cleared up fairly quickly and I also managed to race in the Christchurch Road Mile. The close proximity of the fans always makes for a special atmosphere in road mile events. I finished with a good sprint, but the two Australian girls were a little better than me and I probably let them get too far ahead of me during the middle phase of the race.

My next competition is the New Zealand Track & Field Championships where I plan to compete in both the 800m and 1500m. Performing well at the nationals have always meant a lot to me and if I win the 800m it will be my ninth successive New Zealand title over the distance a youth, junior and senior. Yet I never take anything for granted. I know the competition will be fierce, although I will be aiming to complete the middle-distance double, which I achieved two years ago at nationals in Wellington. I then plan to go to Sydney Track Classic later next month, where I hope to conclude my domestic season with a fast 1500m.

Obviously, as Rio is approaching fast on the horizon it is easy to get ahead of yourself and start fixating on the Olympic Games. Yet I just need to focus on the next race and stick to my pre-race routine which has served me so well for most of my career. People are often interested in my pre-race routine and as my faith is very important to me, I find repeating verses from the bible during warm up really helps me.

I also sometimes like to listen to music which acts as an additional motivation and also have a small bible which I carry in my spike bag and sometimes read in the call room. I also take little cues from my sport psychologist John Quinn to help alleviate any nervousness or anxiety.

On the subject of Rio, it is concerning to hear of the Zika virus. I love my running but my family is more important to me. If there was a high-risk that the virus could stay in your system for many years and affect your babies (with microcephaly) in four years or so years then I wouldn't want to travel, which is a big statement for me to make as I have dreamed of competing in the Olympics since I was little. Yet from what I've read they are doing all they can to protect people from getting the virus. I don't think the virus stays in your system for long, so hopefully everything will be fine and the authorities will be doing all they can to minimise the risks.


I have also been saddened to read of the various reports of drug abuse by many Russian athletes. We all have our suspicions but you can never be sure until they test positive. I was really shocked that they have been so many and I was particularly saddened because I really looked up to Mariya Savinova (the 2011 World 2012 Olympic champion). Yet the good news is that athletes are being caught and we will now be competing on a more level playing field.

Finally, I'd like to update on Sam's (my husband) condition following his mountain bike accident, which featured in my last blog. His memory has now fully returned and he is doing fine. He is back swimming and cycling, although he still finds the up and down motion of running a little tough. Hopefully, though, it won't take too long before he is fully back in triathlon training.

I look forward to write my next blog when I'll review my domestic season.
Warm regards
Angie

*Note, at the Auckland Track Challenge, Angie ran a season’s best time of 2:02.32 to win the 800m and maintain her unbeaten start to the track season.

TOM WALSH - SHOT PUT

19 February 2016

As some of you will already know, I suffered a hip injury in my final session before The Big Shot event in Christchurch and I was forced to withdraw from the event. This was obviously disappointing. The Big Shot is an event I really enjoyed competing in last year and the close proximity of the crowd to the athletes and the fact you are competing out on the streets of Christchurch makes it a very special event.

The injury happened about 12 throws into a training session at the High Performance Training when one of the throws felt a bit tight. It was raining lightly and I might have overstretched myself in the circle before the next throw felt a bit tighter. Then with the next one, I gave it a really good nudge and I had to stop.

People will say, ‘oh, why didn’t you stop after the second time you felt something?’ but hindsight is a wonderful thing and had it happened the next day at The Big Shot, the injury probably would have been worse.

My initially thought was that I’d picked up the same injury as I had in Germany last year, except on this occasion it was by left rather than my right hip. The good news is the injury I sustained in Germany was not so serious and after a couple of weeks it settled down. Then I was still able to do some medicine ball work and bench presses, although I couldn’t do any full squats or shot throwing for the first two weeks.

I'm pleased to write that the pain has subsided so I can confirm that I will now be able to compete at the Auckland Track Challenge next week, which is an important event for me to help me prepare for the World Indoor Championships in Portland.

We don’t exactly the location of the injury, but it is a deep muscle injury and we’ll have a clearer picture in the next few days. I am very lucky in that I have a great relationship with my regular physio Vanessa Trent. I’ve worked with her for six years, she is always very flexible to my needs and she has been treating the problem. She immediately spotted I had a very tight, lower lumbar region and thankfully that area already feels a lot freer which may have contributed to the hip feeling much better.

As I’m based in Christchurch, I stuck around to watch the guys compete in The Big Shot. There was a good crowd in of around 1500 people for the Street Mile and The Big Shot, but it was a little weird that while I was watching the competition, I experienced competition nerves. I was genuinely desperate to just get out there and throw with the boys!

The competition itself was very good. The top two - Jacko Gill and Damien Birkinhead - both threw very well with the top four all registering PB’s. Jacko is certainly looking much better. He is much faster in the circle and looking dangerous, which is not only good for New Zealand shot putting, but really good for me as it acts as an additional spur.

So, I'll be competing at Auckland Track Challenge ahead of nationals and then World Indoor Championships. Portland remains a good target for me and I’ve always believed as a high performance athlete peaking twice a year is not beyond me. World Indoors is also a good early season focus for me and it does not allow me to focus too much purely on the Rio Olympics at this early stage of the year. 

Tom

ANNA GRIMALDI - PARA-SPRINTS AND LONG JUMP

5 February 2016

It is hard to believe it is already 2016 – the year of the Rio Paralympic Games. As recently as last October's IPC Athletics World Championships Rio still seemed so far away but since the clock ticked over to 2016 reality has dawned that the big event is looming and there is little time to waste.

The thought of the Paralympic Games is naturally exciting, but it also evokes some nervousness as I have yet to qualify for the event – which is my main priority in the coming months.

Since my last blog we’ve changed the training emphasis and I’ve just gone through a mini-strength phase in an effort to increase my power. It is hoped that the work I’m putting in now in the gym will enable me to reach top speed quicker and help me on the runway.

I have been working on exercises such as eccentric hips thrusts and squats, which is not too pleasant, and workouts have been pretty tough, including one type of squat in which a gym trainer stands on a box behind me and pushes the bar down hard. My task is to control the bar, which is not easy, believe me!

The training has worked the muscles hard – leading to some nasty soreness.

To make matters worse after the first cycle of my gym programme my coach asked me to compete at a twilight competition the next day. He stressed that it was just a training competition and we would not record distances, which was a relief because my muscles felt sore and lethargic and just weren’t firing. I jumped terribly that night. I was more than 50cm down on my best and I was very disappointed. Perhaps I shouldn't have felt that way as there was no pressure on me to jump big, but I guess I am the kind of athlete who likes to do my best all of the time.

I’m happy to say that ten days later in Dunedin I jumped much better. I always try to take the positives out of any performance and we worked hard on a few minor technical elements to my run-up. Making these adjustments undoubtedly gave me a good confidence boost and at the meeting last Saturday I jumped 5.23m – just 18 centimetres short of my best which fills me with genuine belief the additional strength work is starting to pay off.

My competitive season takes a step up this weekend as I fly across the Tasman Sea to compete in the IPC Grand Prix event in Canberra. It will be really cool to compete in the Australian capital because outside of the IPC Athletics World Championships and one or two other events I rarely get the chance to compete in para-only events. I’m not quite sure which athletes I will up against but it will be a great opportunity to test myself and I love to compete.

Post-Canberra the events come thick and fast. I then plan to compete at Porritt Classic, Otago Championships leading into nationals at the beginning of March to be held in my home city of Dunedin.

What am I looking to achieve? Well, I’m seeking consistency and a series of solid jumps. I’ve never jumped beyond 5.30m in New Zealand before so I’d love to get close or beyond that mark and having already registered a 5.23m, I am hopeful it is an attainable goal.

Finally, I’ll sign off my blog this week by saying I enjoyed the life of a “normal” teenager for a few days over New Year. After spending some time at the family holiday home in Clyde from Boxing Day (don’t worry, I was training during my time there at a grass track in Alexandra!) I did take a wee break with my friends to go to Rhythm and Alps Festival in the Cadrona Valley. It was great to relax with friends, watch some music and just chill and for a few days at least there was not one sporting conversation!

I look forward to writing my next next blog where I’ll update on how the heart of my domestic season has developed.

Anna

CAMERON FRENCH - 400M HURDLES

29 January 2016
We are already racing towards the end of January and I’m itching to start my competitive programme for the season. The Classic season is well and truly up and running and while it has been nice to see many athletes performing well, I’m naturally keen to hit the track and perform and I can’t wait to make my seasonal debut over 400m in Hamilton this weekend.


My last blog came to you from Canberra, where I was training with Australian and British 400m hurdles Olympians Tristan Thomas and Rhys Williams. I’m pleased to report the remainder of my time in the Australian capital city went well and I enjoyed four productive weeks of training.

It was great to enjoy a change of scenery and it was cool to share some ideas on training with both Tristan and Rhys. Another additional benefit of training with two top quality athletes is it definitely pushes you that half-a-metre quicker in training without even realising!

Returning back to New Zealand training has continued to progress nicely. I’ve felt I’ve really made some technical gains, particularly regarding my alternating between left and right leg leads. The right leg had been a bit of a weakness but my coach, Criss Strange, and I have managed to iron out that differentials and I’m relishing the prospect of returning to competitive hurdling shortly.

For six weeks from December we also had some special guests living with Camille (Buscomb) and I in Hamilton. The German marathon running twins Lisa (2:28 marathoner) and Anna (2:26) Hahner were seeking to train in New Zealand and were put in touch with Camille. We were only too happy to accommodate them during their stay and it worked out perfectly for the twins and Camille from a training perspective.

Their manager, Thomas Dold, also stayed with us and is an interesting guy. He is a multiple world record holder for backwards running and also a world-class tower runner and a seven-time champion for running up New York’s Empire State Building. Am I tempted one day to give it a go? Not really, I’m quite happy to take the lift.

Thanks to our guests we also got to experience an authentic German Christmas this year, which meant celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve – a German tradition. They cooked lots of German food and it was a cool, if different, way of marking the day.

For New Year we travelled down to Mount Maunganui and celebrated New Year’s Eve with a few other athletes and friends. New Year’s Eve was fairly sedate and relaxed and during my time down there I even involved a little work in the sand dunes.

Now I’m just looking forward to seeing where I am at after many months of hard training. I plan to begin my season in an open 400m race at the Inter-Provincials Championships in Hamilton this weekend where I’m seeking a time of 46 something. Last year at the same time of year I ran 46.5 but I then had the benefit of having some 100m and 200m races behind me, so anything in the 46s would be a good start.

The following weekend I intend to race up at Mt Smart and may opt for a shorter sprint as well as a 400m or 400m hurdles. Then it is on to Porritt Classic, where I am targeting the 400m hurdles.
At the moment, I’m just enjoying the blisteringly hot weather we are experiencing in New Zealand. I’m a big fan of training in the heat.

Apart from that I also recently featured in a TV commercial, which was pretty cool. Josh Hawkins and several other athletes were asked to run at Waitakere Stadium for the ad which will be shown globally from April 1.

Finally, it is hard to believe we are now in 2016 – the year of the Rio Olympics. It was five years ago I sat down with my coach and decided to attack the Rio Olympics – it has come around so quickly.

Yet I’m confident and hopeful for the year ahead. All the indications show during training that my speed is good and although there is a massive difference between training and racing over the hurdles I hope to blow any cobwebs away in the next few weeks and get into my rhythm. I’m looking forward to some exciting times ahead.

Cameron

ANGIE PETTY - 800M

21 January 2016
I’m writing my latest blog en route to Friday’s Capital Classic, but before updating on my athletics journey I first need to share the terrible shock I received after my husband, Sam, was airlifted to hospital following a mountain bike accident.

We were halfway through our holiday in Kaiteriteri enjoying some wonderful family time when last Monday (January 11) I dropped Sam, my dad, brother and a few friends at the top of the hill to go mountain biking while I headed out to enjoy a hill sprint session.

They had intended to be out on their bikes for between two to three hours but after I completed my hill sprints and dad and Sam hadn’t returned after three hours, I naturally started to be curious. I initially thought they must have simply decided to stay out longer because they were having such a good time. Then my cousin, Kelly, and I heard an ambulance pass by and she said we should prayer for whoever it was that needed help. Little did I know at the time the ambulance was for Sam.

As time ticked by we became increasingly concerned and so we went out looking for Sam. We next saw a rescue helicopter and then moments later at the bottom of the bike track I saw my dad walking out holding Sam’s bike as well as his own. My dad is normally quite stoic but he looked very emotional and it was then I realised something terrible must have happened. It was pretty scary. They must have been a hundred people from the local camp site gathered around the helicopter and Sam was inside with blood down his neck and face.

He had gone down the hill twice but unlike many of the others he decided to go down for a third run. However, somewhere down the track his bike wheel became stuck in a rut and he flipped over the handle bars into a tree. Thankfully some boys found him and called the ambulance.

He looked pleased to see me but clearly had concussion because as we flew to Nelson Hospital he kept asking me the same questions over and over. It was not an experience I would ever care to repeat, but when we arrived at the hospital, the doctors reassured me it was just concussion and he would be fine.

He suffered some bad cuts to his face and had to be fixed up with some stitches. He also has a badly bruised shoulder but his memory slowly started to return about five hours after the accident. He still has no recollection of the actual incident (or only very brief flashbacks) but we are just so thankful he is fine and it just reminds me to appreciate every day even more.

It may be purely coincidental, but I’ve suffered a bit of a virus since Sam’s accident which left me feeling dizzy with a sore tummy. It is a virus that my whole family have picked up, but thankfully it didn’t come on until after the Potts Classic – one of my favourite meets.

The 800m is one of the showpiece events at Potts Classic and I always make a real point of competing there because Sylvia Potts was such a New Zealand middle-distance hero and I also got to know the late, Allan Potts, who was always such a huge supporter.

I was delighted to claim a seventh successive win there, especially as I faced a strong challenge from my good friend Katherine Marshall, who was right on my heels with about 150m to go. I was satisfied with an opening time of 2:03.43, although I maybe would have liked to have run a second or so quicker.

Yet I can’t be too downbeat. I have done very little 800m specific work with the emphasis at this time of the year more on endurance as I mentioned in my last blog. Also, I have to also take heart from the fact that 12 months ago I ran 2:04 at the meet and ended up running 1:59 later in the year. If running 2:03 at Potts equates to a 1:58 leading up to the Rio Olympics, and then hopefully faster, I’d be more than happy with that.

Training is going better than ever. My 1000m rep times are faster than at any stage of my career and I can look forward with confidence to the races to come starting with Friday’s Capital Classic, where I hope to run a 3000m PB against a stellar field. I’ll then turn my attention to the Christchurch Street Mile where I will up against some top class opposition before looking to some 800m races later in the domestic season, where I’m hopeful I can run some quick times.

Before signing off my latest blog I have to make mention of the fact that we are now less than 200 days to the Rio Olympics. Month by month the excitement rises and although I don’t want to be too presumptuous regarding selection a number of my family and friends including mum, dad, and my brother plus Sam have all bought their tickets for Rio. To have their support in Brazil means the world to me.
Angie

PORTIA BING - HEPTATHLON

15 January 2016
Hoe gaan dit or hello from Potchefstroom, South Africa.
Christmas and New Year have come and gone. Holiday season this year consisted of a quiet – or as quiet as a household with 6 kids can get-Christmas at home. Lots of presents, lots of games and lots of laughter - and for the first time ever not lots of food. I enforced a three plate dinner policy where only three plates of food could be served for lunch. The thinking was that if I can’t overeat neither can anyone else. While it sounded like a good idea, it looked rather underwhelming once served up. However once we sat down to eat ham, roast potatoes and salad we had the best lunch and the satisfaction of not overeating. I got the award for the most appropriate Christmas cracker joke – What athlete is warmest in winter? A long jumper!

With only Christmas day off training, I took off to Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel for a few days of “active recovery” – in other words a holiday that you spend cross training with a change of scenery. I spent half the day running some fabulous bush tracks and the other half swimming. It helps when you hook yourself to a local that knows all the places tourists never go. Knowing I was headed into a very intensive month of training in South Africa that couple of days resting was incredibly invigorating.

Early in January I left the sunny shores of NZ behind for the sweltering sun of South Africa. Being the first to arrive at our training facility meant I had a very short 24 hours to acclimatise. The campus is state of the art fully equipped with high performance gyms, hot and cold pools, three tracks including an incredible grass track, large recreational areas with games swimming pools and more. I am here with other French athletes for a training camp. After reflecting on last season, I realised that if I want to be able to compete with the European heptathletes, I need to know more. Being here means I am immersed in the physical and mental challenges of multi eventing.

As I write this it is 10pm and the temperature is still 42 degrees. I have been training several sessions a day in the most intense heat imaginable. Water and shade are absolutely vital. One high jump session had to finish early because the high jump mats got so hot, we couldn't touch them. The swimming pool is being very well used. Ironically the French lessons I didn't pay much attention to at school, would have been really handy now. Knowing whether to say bonjour or salut is one thing. Knowing when to shake hands, kiss or cheek touch is another. I have the feeling everyone is finding my greetings very funny- I'm kissing people I should be shaking hands with. Hugs are so much easier. I am learning so much about myself and what I am capable of by being here. I know that I will be a more balanced all round athlete from being exposed to this type of environment.

I will be back just in time for the NZ national multis, the first comp for the season for me. It will be a perfect time to implement some new skills and get a good indication of where I am before target comps later in the domestic season.
Portia

TOM WALSH - SHOT PUT

12 January 2016

Since my last blog I’m happy to write that training continues to progress nicely, I’m injury-free and my weights are starting to head in the right direction. Three weeks ago I equalled most of my PB’s in testing and while I was hoping for a little more only last week I managed to post a bench PB of 205kg and I also came very close to lifting 210kg.

I’ve just come off a very heavy block of training and sometimes strength can develop at different rates. Significantly, I also hit 20m in training the other day, which is about a one-metre improvement on where I was this time last year. Of course, just because I am throwing a metre further than last year does not necessarily mean I am going to be throwing a metre further during the season, but it does fill me with a confidence that I am touch with 20m and it gives me belief for the forthcoming competitions.

Still, I cannot become complacent. I always have to remind myself that throwing distances in training ultimately count for nothing. It is all about performing well in competition – which is true of any athlete whether runner, jumper of thrower. 

We may have just come off the Christmas and New Year period but there was little room for too much rest as I continued to train in pursuit of my goals for next year’s Rio Olympics. I spent Christmas Day on the family farm which was an enjoyable day. Not that I received any real surprises from Santa. I am in a great position that I a great support team around me at the moment and I’m very lucky that my kit needs are all serviced by Nike too.

On Boxing Day I headed back to training in Christchurch until the 31st before heading down to Twizel for a few days, where my girlfriend’s family own a bach. I trained once a day while I was down there and my girlfriend’s father, who is also a builder, built me a wooden circle to train in. It was amazing to train down there in that environment. The views of Mt Cook are spectacular and although I was training, I found because I didn’t have any physio engagements or other appointments to attend it was very relaxing.

I also managed to see in the New Year and go for a few drinks in town. All the oldies celebrated at the Town and Country club with the younger people at a bar in town. So many people from Timaru own a bach down there I managed to also catch up with a lot of older friends. 

As we move into 2016 I’m looking forward to returning to competition again. I last competed in mid-September in Bad Kostritz and I make my seasonal debut at The Big Shot event on the streets of Christchurch. 

I thought the event was a big success last year – even though the temperature dipped to around 12-14c after a gloriously sunny day and I personally didn’t compete so well (Tom threw a best of 19.99m his worst performance of the year). Street meets are always hugely popular and it will be great to compete against Jacko early season.

It will then me on the Auckland Track Challenge and then the Nationals Championships, which take place on Friday March 4 before flying out that night compete at the Melbourne Track Challenge, which takes place next day.

Yet my main priority during the first half of the season remains the World Indoor Championships in Portland. I’ve heard both the World outdoor gold and silver medallist Joe Kovacs of the US and David Storl of Germany will not be competing, but I know the competition will be extremely tough and I will certainly not be underestimating the strength of the opposition.

I’d like to sign off my latest blog hoping the Black Caps continue their outstanding form this summer while I personally hope to further improve my golf handicap, which has crept down from 21 to 18 in the past few months.
Tom

Anna Grimaldi - Para-Sprints and Long Jump

18 December 2015

Hi. With 2015 soon to come to an end, it makes sense to start my blog by looking back on what was an amazing year. I only took up athletics in late 2013, so to have won a bronze medal at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha is way more than I ever would have believed I could have achieved during my short-time in the sport. I’ve enjoyed so many amazing overseas experiences in 2015 and met so many cool people – it has been awesome. 


I was so proud of the way I performed in Doha, especially as my confidence was low just prior to the championships. Arriving in Qatar my jumping was struggling to click and it was only in the final few days in the countdown to my competition did I finally start to regain some confidence again with some improved jumping sessions.

Yet even during the competition it was far from plain sailing. In round three, I thought I had registered a perfectly legitimate jump was declared a foul. I could see no reason why I was given a red flag and looking back I think that moment helped fire me up as I then added 12 centimetres to my lifetime best with 5.41m – as I went into bronze medal on countback – in round four. In the fifth round I then jumped the second longest jump of my career with 5.38m and after a few nerve-wracking moments hung on to win a medal – in what was first major international competition.

Post-Doha I returned back home to Dunedin and faced a bit of a reality shock. I had built up so many cool connections with the team over many weeks and after spending every meal time with them to suddenly see them once a day or once a week was difficult. I also had a few assignments to complete as part of my quantity surveying course at Otago Polytechnic, so I certainly had very little time to put my feet up.

I also did not take a complete break from exercise. I remember the previous year doing absolutely nothing during my end-of-season break but when I returned to training I initially struggled because of my lack of fitness. This time I kept the body ticking over by aqua-jogging and doing some light sessions at the gym. The result was when I returned to full training with my coach, Brent Ward, I adapted much more quickly to the training demands.

The next step is qualification for Rio. Only the top two in each event from the World Championships automatically qualified a nation slot in that event for Rio and as I am ranked joint-third in the world I need to focus on a top five qualification (for those who have not already qualified) to assure a New Zealand spot in my event. I am in a good place at the moment, but I know I cannot afford to be complacent and I will be aiming to better my PB in the coming weeks and months.

Post-Doha we had a World Championships debrief about what area I could improve upon in the countdown to Rio and one area I know I need to fix is my sleep. In all honesty, I probably don’t get as much sleep as I should and it is something I plan to work hard to achieve in future.

Looking back on the video footage from World Championships, I know I can improve technically. I can improve my landing. I want to work on my strength and on my take-off leg, but it is mostly about improving those one per cent gains across all areas of my training.

My first big competition of the New Year will be the IPC Athletics Grand Prix event in Canberra. I’ve never been to Canberra and it will be a good early opportunity to compete against some strong international competition. I then plan to move on to the Porritt Classic in Hamilton before the Otago and Canterbury Champs, New Zealand nationals followed by Aussie Nationals at the end of March.

Before then I plan to spend Christmas in Dunedin before driving to Clyde on Boxing Day, where my parents have a holiday home. There is a grass track at nearby Alexandra to train on, although I might find some of my training is more general conditioning on a bike or in the pool.

Until my next blog I wish everyone a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and I look forward to sharing the next chapter on my Road to Rio.
Anna

Cameron French - 400m hurdles

15 December 2015
Hi,
I’m happy to write my first blog from sunny Canberra, where I’m currently enjoying a four-week training stint. I’m out here training with the Australian Olympic 400m hurdler Tristan Thomas, whom I spent time with in Australia last year, and we’ve also been joined by the Welsh Olympic 400m hurdler and former European champion Rhys Williams.

As I tend to train a lot on my own back home in Hamilton it is great to get the opportunity to train with high quality athletes. Three is also a nice number to work with, we get on well and I think we have a complementary set of skills which helps brings the best out of each other.

Of course, it also helps that most days the temperature sits in the high 20s and early 30s which helps with recovery and always helps the tough training sessions become that bit more enjoyable.

As 2015 draws to an end I can look back with satisfaction on a good year. I was ranked the number one athlete in New Zealand for the 100m, 200m and 400m and ranked number two in my speciality event the 400m hurdles.

Yet there is also an element of frustration that I just missed out on my ultimate goal of making the team to compete at the Beijing World Championships. On that front it was close, but no cigar. I had run the B qualification standard time but as I was ranked 42 out of the top 40 athletes and I narrowly missed out on competing in the Bird's Nest Stadium.

Still, I have to take the positives out of a year, which proved a huge learning curve for me. I ran my fastest six 400m hurdle races of my career this year and four times dipped under 50 seconds.

For the first time in my career I competed outside of Oceania which was a new experience. Back in May I raced twice in Japan, where I was given an introduction to the unforgiving nature of competing at a higher level. I recall in my first race in Shizuoka making a slight technical error – which was not hugely detrimental to my entire race – but even after making such a slight mistake I suddenly found myself out the back of the field. If I had made the same mistake in a domestic race I might still have been out front or at least in the top three.

I also learned a lot from competing through three rounds at a major international championship as I did competing at World University Games in Korea. There I finished fifth running 49.92, which was reasonably satisfying, although I know I can perform to a higher standard.

Yet perhaps the most pleasing element to the year is I finally believe I have ironed out the technical flaws which have hampered my progression in the 400m hurdles. I may have struggled with a chest infection in a difficult build up to my final race of the season in Chiba, Japan but I still managed to run 49.92 – the joint third fastest in my career so far. More importantly, however I managed to nail 13 strides to hurdle five and five through to hurdle nine until the wheels fell off because of my physical state.

With this in mind I can draw huge encouragement from running a technically sound race in 49.92. After my race in Chiba I spent a week or so travelling in Japan before flying back for four weeks rest at the end of a long season. I had competed from November right through to August and I only realised quite how fatigued I was from the gruelling season when I got home. For the first two weeks back I was in frantic rush to complete my uni work – I’m studying a degree in construction management – and took some time out to relax before re-starting training and the build up to Rio.

With the help of my coach, Criss Strange, we have tweaked a few things in training which we hope will enable me to dip under the 49.40 A qualification standard for the Rio Olympics. In the past a hip injury – which we have worked hard on strengthening – has restricted my ability to hurdle as regularly as we would like. But we feel the hip is now a lot stronger and this will allow us to carry out more hurdles specific work.

I have also got a little leaner trimming back a few kilograms from around 78kg or 79kg in the last domestic season to around 76kg. I have not really changed too much in terms of my nutrition but we have more adjusted my work in the gym to allow me to be a little leaner and more dynamic.

We have an A, B and a C plan leading right up an F plan depending on how and when I qualify for Rio. Obviously, the A plan is to secure the time early and I intend to start racing again in January with my first 400m hurdles at my home track at Porritt Classic in mid-February. I then plan to race Canberra and then either nationals or Melbourne followed by Brisbane.

The next step will then be to go back out to Japan for a couple of meets in May like I did last season. Yet I know I can’t get too far ahead of myself. I still have plenty of work to complete here in Canberra before I return home on December 15.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and a big thank you to everyone who has supported me this year. I look forward to sharing my latest training experiences in my next blog early in 2016.
Cameron

Angie Petty - 800m

8 December 2015
Hi. For my first Road to Rio blog, I’m pleased to write that my preparations for the forthcoming domestic season are on track, even if recently I suffered a bit of a health scare.
A couple of weeks ago I woke up with what thought was a tummy bug, which led to a bout of dizziness. I felt awful and as my condition deteriorated I found I couldn’t even sit up without feeling dizzy as the vomiting became more frequent. I was taken to hospital where I put on a drip in an effort to rehydrate me.

My white-blood cell count was high and my resting heart rate was recorded at 75bpm, when typically it would sit at around 45bpm. It is a little bit of a mystery exactly what happened. The doctors said I might have been suffering vertigo or a really bad migraine but the fact my husband got the tummy bug the next day suggests that may have been the issue.

Clearly I was not well, but thankfully I have made a quick recovery. I missed three days training but I was back running again last Saturday, and I now feel 100 per cent, which is a relief.

Apart from this one blip since I returned back to training on September 11 everything has progressed without incident and I’m very happy with my current form and fitness.

As the year comes to a conclusion I can look back with pride on 2015. It has definitely been the best season of my career and to finally break the two-minute barrier was a great boost because it has been a long-term target of mine. To win gold at the World University Games was a real highlight, although I was a bit disappointed not to make the final of the World Championships because I felt I was training better than I had been in the countdown to World Unis.

Finding an explanation as to why my performance level at World Championships was not quite as high as World University Games is not easy. Maybe I found it hard to peak twice in a six-week period and I used a lot of mental energy competing in Asia for World Unis flying out to Europe and then back to Asia for the World Championships.

Still, I can’t be too disappointed with my performance in Beijing. I recorded the second fastest time of my career in the semi-final (1:59.63 for fourth) and I can take lots of positives from the year going into next season where, of course, Rio is the main target.

Post-Beijing I returned home to New Zealand to take a two-week end-of-season break. It was great to spend time with family and friends and also my husband, Sam. I had big chunks of the international season away from Sam, which I find really tough, so it is always nice to be able to spend quality time together.
Since returning to training we have continued to put slightly more emphasis on longer tempo runs and extra ‘double runs’ in an effort to improve my endurance base. This is something we first started to focus on a little earlier this year because we felt my aerobic base is probably lacking compared to my anaerobic qualities. Usually a couple of days a week, as well as a hard session I might add another 20-minute run at some part of the day as well, so although the second run isn’t long, it all adds up.

The programme put together by my coach, Maria (Hassan) is clearly working and last month I had two encouraging outings over 3000m. The first one on a grass track in Christchurch I ran 9:49 – to take 17 seconds from my PB – and two weeks later I recorded 9:36 in Timaru. Running 3000m as an 800m athlete is probably not my favourite distance, and although I don’t run 3km too often, having run half-a-minute quicker than ever before it shows my endurance is certainly a lot stronger than in the past.

Having had a couple of early season races over 3000m I next plan to be in action over the more familiar 800m distance at the Potts Classic in January before competing at the Capital Classic over either 400m or 3000m. It will then be on to the Porritt Classic, where I plan to compete over 1500m, before 800m races in Adelaide and at Auckland Track Challenge. Next up will be the nationals before a 1500m race at the Sydney Track Classic.

People have quizzed me about my aims and ambitions for the domestic season and although I really don’t want to focus on times, I hope to be close to my best. I have achieved the Rio Olympic qualification on six occasions, but I can’t take anything for granted. I know I have to prove I am great shape if I am going to step on that plane for Rio and performing well in the domestic season is important.

As for my Rio goals, I have drawn a lot of confidence from running sub-two minutes but I know I now need to step up to the next level. If I can trim my time down to 1:58 I believe this will give me a better chance of performing better when it counts. I hope to be in that final at Rio, but the ultimate goal will be to win a medal.

Have a Happy Christmas and I look forward to sharing my experiences in my next Road to Rio blog in the New Year.
Angie

Portia Bing - Heptathlon

27 Nov 2015
As 2015 draws to an end, I can reflect on a year which has given my career a new lease of life and a massive taste for competing on the biggest stage.

Back in 2014 I competed in the New Zealand 4x400m team at the Commonwealth Games, but heptathlon was always my number one event and post-Glasgow my coaching team (Russ Hoggard, Dave Norris, Didier Poppe and Adam Storey) did very well in helping me adapt back to life as a multi-eventer. 

To set a PB (of 6102pts in Brisbane) in January and make the team for the World Championships in Beijing – the biggest competition of my life – acted as a huge motivation and I was very happy with the way I performed in China. To sit eighth overnight at the end of day one was pretty unreal. I did have a few mishaps on day two, but to reach my goal of a top 16 finish (Portia was 16th) is exciting for me and shows I can be competitive.

It also reassured me that the heptathlon is my best event and I am confident in future I can improve upon my performances and enjoy further success.  

A number of factors contributed to my improved form in 2015 (in which Portia set a PB for all seven heptathlon events). I have technically made progress in a number of events, but another factor has been adding more strength and conditioning work into the programme. This has given me greater power which has helped in a number of areas from my block start to my javelin release.

I have also learned to adopt a more strategic approach to training, focusing on interspersing more quality sessions into the programme. 
Competing on the biggest stage at a World Championships also exposed me to a different style of heptathlon competition. In past competitions, I’d often be competing against myself and the clock but at the highest level the 800m is highly competitive and the girls are also racing each other rather than purely the clock. 

Post-Beijing and eager to further improve my knowledge of international competition, I flew on to Europe to compete in one final heptathlon in Talence, France. However, despite performing well and throwing a new PB in the javelin (40.49m) with my next throw I injured my knee and I was forced to withdraw from the 800m. I was gutted at having a heptathlon DNF for the first time in my career, but the decision was out of my hands and I was under doctor’s orders not to run. 

I had been managing a nerve problem in my knee since before the World Championships, so after the meet in France I went home to New Zealand and took a four-week end-of-season break. 

As I was injured I was fairly limited in what I could do and I certainly didn’t go on a big lavish holiday! I went down to see my brother, Michael, who is living in the Waikato and playing cricket and I also caught up with other family and friends.

Recently, I also picked up the Harbour Sport Local Sportswoman of the Year award. It is always nice to gain some recognition for my achievements and it was especially sweet to win as I’d been nominated on numerous occasions.    

Returning to training about six weeks ago was initially tough. My knee struggling to cope with the heavy load as my body took a while to readjust. However, thanks to regular re-hab the knee issue is under control and training is going well. We are only in the build-up phase but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made, particularly in the long jump – which was an up and down event for me this year. 

My approach to training this year is quite different. In the past the programme would be quite track orientated but we have adopted a more balanced approach with a greater emphasis on field events.  My training days are long often starting at 7am and not finishing until 7pm – but it is not as bad as it sounds as often I might have four hours or so between sessions to have a break which might include some massage or physio. In fact, the way I see it is many people in regular day jobs work just as many hours!

The main goal is, of course, to qualify for the Rio Olympics. The A standard in 6200pts – almost 100pts better than my PB - but I’m confident I can bridge that gap with some small technical changes. 

My next planned heptathlon will be at the New Zealand Combined Event Championships in Wanganui in February, where I’m hoping for a bit of good weather and to achieve the Rio standard. Yet I cannot limit myself to simply achieving 6200pts. I need to continue to better myself in order to further improve standards. 
Portia

Tom Walsh - Shot Put

20 Nov 2015

Hi again. 

Sitting here writing my first blog on the Road to Rio, I'm pleased to say after about seven weeks or so back in training and I'm over the worst of it. By the worst of it, I mean that first three weeks back after an end-of-season break when I wish I'd never taken that rest period because my body was was so sore I felt like I was an old man and I was complaining like one, too.  Thankfully slowly the body has got used to the demands and although I feel tired that is to be expected and the soreness has disappeared.

 Before I look forward to the exciting season ahead capped by the Rio Olympics, I need to take a little time out to reflect on my 2015 season. I wouldn't have wished for the season to have gone much better. I set a PB at a World Championships – which is no easy feat – won my first Diamond League meeting (in Brussels) and threw consistently well all year.

If I'm being slightly picky I would have liked to have turned that fourth place finish at the World Championships into a medal and, maybe, I would have liked to have thrown a bit further, but overall I'm very happy. It is hard to identify any one factor as to why the season went so well but I feel like I really belonged in 2015.

I know I achieved success in 2014, but to be honest much of that all felt a little surreal. I also learned a little bit more about myself and what spins my wheels to enable me to throw further.  I'm also quite an organised guy whether that is booking flights or hotels and other things.

I don't quite know why that is but it might be a hangover from days living on a farm. I was a sport's nut – I still am – so most night's as a schoolkid I'd be out training. As I wasn't allowed a cell phone until my final year at school, I always had to make sure I was very organised otherwise I'd have to thumb a lift the 20 minutes or so from Timaru to the family farm.

At the end of the season I took a four-week break, although after landing from overseas on the Wednesday and starting back up on the building site on the Monday I didn't have too much time to lay idol. I did manage to squeeze in a four or five day trip to Wanaka and Queenstown with my girlfriend, Dana. It was nice to unwind and switch the phone off and relax for a few days.

We did plenty of the tourist activities in Queenstown that you might expect, although bungee jumping is strictly off limits because I weight in at around 120kg which is well over the recommended limit!

 It was nice to be back on the building site again and I now only have to complete two modules exterior cladding and site set-up to be a fully qualified builder. The guys on the site treat me no differently. They like to wind me up and make the odd comment about Jacko, but is is all good.


After trying to hit the heavy numbers again in training the body certainly struggled to adjust to the shock. I think this is simply because I've not lifted the heavy weights and more than two months and it does take time to become accustomed once again.

Since returning back to training I've largely kept my programme the same as in the past, although I have introduced boxing training once a week. This is no futile attempt to take on Joseph Parker, but it does give my mind something new to focus on. It helps a little with my aerobic fitness and also develops my co-ordination because I'm working on slightly different body movements. I have enjoyed my work with the gloves once a week and although I knew boxing would be technical I didn't appreciate just how technical the sport is and how your hand movements need to be in sync with your feet.

Time is already quickly ticking by and it won't be too long before I re-start my competitive programme. I hope to be back competing again in February for The Big Shot competition followed by the Auckland Track Challenge at Waitakere. In March I'll them move on the National Championships in Dunedin before moving on to Portland to give the World Indoor Championships a nudge later in March.

I cannot allow myself to look too far into the future, though. I have some pretty big goals to reach in training over the next month-and-a-half and it is only after the next six weeks or so I'll find out just where I'm at. At the moment I'm only throwing around 19m which is to be expected for the time of year. But if I hit my targets for the Christmas/New Year period I'll be really happy and then I can look forward to 2016 with confidence.
Tom
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