Above: Angie Petty (nee Smit) in action at last year's Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Photo by Alan McDonald Macspeedfoto.
Recently minted World University Games 800m champion Angie Petty produced the performance of her life in Gwangju earlier this month to not only strike gold but also run a personal best and join the sub two-minute club. Steve Landells chats to Angie to reflect on her success.
Of all the qualities Angie Petty has displayed in 2015 the one outstanding attribute has been patience.
After struggling to produce her best during the New Zealand domestic season and then missing out on the World Championship qualification time in her first three races in Europe - time was starting to tick against her dreams of qualifying for Beijing.
Yet she refused to panic. She retained the faith in her coach, Maria Hassan, and on June 27 she booked her ticket for China with a 2:00.62 performance in Watford, England – with what was at the time her fifth quickest 800m run of her career.
Then at the World University Games in Korea she produced the best performance of her life, winning her heat and semi-final before gloriously timing her run to perfection to grab gold in the final and in so doing wiping almost a full second from her lifetime best.
“It means more than words can say,” says Angie of her stunning gold medal winning display. “I have been chasing the two-minute barrier for so long and now that it has happened I’m over the moon. The gold medal was even better than I was originally aiming for.”
Angie had enjoyed a memorable 2014 both on and off the track. She has performed with distinction at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, placing fifth in the 800m final and her year ended with the thrill of marrying her British husband Sam, an ex-800m runner, who now competes in triathlon.
Hopes were high Angie could make a flying start to the year and bank the qualification time for the World Championships during the domestic season. Unfortunately, the campaign “didn’t go quite as well as I would have liked.” She did secure her fourth straight national 800m title and produce an electric final lap in the 1500m at the Melbourne World Challenge to come from nowhere to finish second, but she fell more than two-and-a-half seconds short of the time required to make the New Zealand 800m team for Beijing. There was both an explanation and a solution.
“Unfortunately, my health wasn't that great in the New Zealand due to one thing or another, but since adopting a gluten-free diet, I have been feeling so much better and I am so grateful for that. It’s is so good to be feeling healthy.”
Coupled with that, the goal under Hassan’s training was always to prioritise peaking for the big events – primarily the World Championships with the secondary focus the World University Games.
Training has also been tweaked in several areas, which has allowed the 23-year-old to feel more aerobically fit than at any point in her career.
“I have a bit more mileage and longer hill reps in me than other seasons and also we have continued to work on technique and strength and more endurance work than in the past, as well as the usual speed endurance and speed,” she adds.
In late May, Angie headed out to England for a month to prepare for the World University Games in an effort to step up her competitive opportunities in an effort to qualify for Beijing. She spent two weeks training in Dumfries in Scotland with Katy Brown, a Scottish 800m athlete, before moving down to Wales to train two weeks with fellow Kiwi 800m athlete Katherine Marshall.
In her first two races in Europe she enjoyed solid outings in Manchester and Montbeliard in France, but fell more than half a second shy of the qualification standard of 2:01.00. Then in her third European race in Watford she won in a time of 2:01.04, but frustratingly fell just 0.04 short of the mark required for Beijing. Yet she refused to press the panic button.
Just three days earlier in Ireland, she had shattered her 1500m personal best by more than three seconds, recording 4:08.54. She was clearly in great nick.
“At some points during my time away I was a little bit concerned,” she adds of failing to bank the qualification mark for Beijing. “I was hoping to get the qualifying done at the first or second meet in the UK but purposely gave myself four or five races to give myself time. It was hard in my third race to come so close, but I didn’t stress. I just continued to focus and train hard.”
Her faith was rewarded just ten days later when back competing in Watford she ran 2:00.62. It came as a huge relief. The Cantabrian had not only booked her ticket for Beijing but also secured a qualification time for the 2016 Rio Olympics and was massively encouraged by the way she achieved the time.
“I ran two flat in Watford off a reasonably slow first lap, so I knew I could go faster and training was going really well,” she adds. “The 1500m PB gave me a lot of confidence, too.”
After finishing fourth in the 800m (note, she was also fifth in the 1500m) at the previous edition of the World University Games in Kazan, the aim was to go at least one place better in Gwangju and mount the medal podium.
She was the third fastest in the field ahead of the event, so a medal was a possibility, however with very little separating the top women in the field on time she was far from complacent.
Her confidence was swelled by winning her heat and semi-final, but in the final she needed to show composure, patience and nerves of steel to produce the race of her life.
The quickest athlete in the field Simoya Campbell – drawn one lane inside Angie in lane four – set off like a rocket. The Jamaican passed 200m in 26 seconds with the Kiwi thinking at the time, “wow, this is a crazy fast pace. I had better not go with it because I might blow up.”
Holding second, Angie passed 400m in about 57 or 58 seconds but she trailed Campbell by an eight metre margin as the leader passed halfway in 56.41. “I still felt good and wasn’t panicking and I knew I had more left,” reflects Angie.
Campbell still held a massive advantage lead with 200m to go, but crucially with 150m remaining Angie believed she still had more to give.
“I still had a bit left, I had tied up from this point in past races, but not today,” she recalls. “Then I thought as we were coming down the home straight and I pulled away from the third and fourth placed girls that I might actually be able to catch Simoya. She pulled out towards lane two, so I pulled out too to get around her and just managed to overtake her on the line. I raised my arms in absolute joy, I was so ecstatic, I had just won. I congratulated the other girls, looked up to the sky and as I thanked God I was passed the New Zealand flag for my victory lap. I had tears of happiness in my eyes.”
Her performance in Gwangju unquestionably was a huge moment for Angie. Yet she has little time to reflect on her victory. Next month she faces an even greater test at the World Championships in Beijing. On the back of her performance in Korea she hopes to be invited to compete in the Diamond League races in London and Stockholm later this month. She then hopes to have one outing in Japan ahead of her appearance at the Bird’s Nest Stadium.
Yet the hope is that Gwangju – where she moved to number two on the all-time New Zealand women’s 800m rankings behind Toni Hodgkinson - is not the high point of her season and she is quietly confident her best is yet to come.
”I haven't done heaps and heaps of speed yet, so I will do more of that leading up to World Champs,” says Angie, who is currently ranked joint seventh in the world for the women’s 800m. “I feel I can hopefully still peak a bit more still too, so I would love to be in that final (in Beijing) and lower my personal best time even more.
”The aim is to run as fast as I can. I hope to do my best in each round. Anything is possible.”