Above: Chantal Brunner jumping to 4th place at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
New Zealand long jump record holder Chantal Brunner was one of the many hundreds of athletes who competed at the recent World Masters Games in Auckland. Steve Landells speaks to the two-time Olympian about winning double gold at the multi-sport festival and her take on the overall experience.
It was a couple of years ago when the conversation in Chantal Brunner’s head, plus those of others of her athletics generation, spoke of the possibility of competing at World Masters Games.
Chantal had, of course, enjoyed a lengthy and distinguished career in track and field. She competed at four Commonwealth Games between 1994 and 2006 (with four top six finishes in the long jump), two Olympic Games in 1996 (where she finished ninth) and 2000 and also set the existing New Zealand long jump record of 6.68m in Melbourne 20 years ago (a mark she matched in Brisbane four years later).
Yet after retiring in 2007 to return to the competitive environment some ten years later as a 46-year-old masters athlete would present a different challenge. Since hanging up her spikes, Chantal who today works part-time as a Senior Legal Counsel at Les Mills International, had maintained general fitness through yoga, occasional gym sessions and the odd sprint session or jump drill depending on “how the mood took me.”
However, to be competitive at a World Masters Games would require more and at Christmas she fully committed to the task.
“I thought then, if I’m going to do this I should do it properly and I wrote myself a little programme,” she says. “Because of my work commitments, Tuesday and Thursday and the weekend were the only days really open to training. At Christmas, we went away for a family holiday and I was able to string a few sessions together. That was the point I thought, I can probably do this. Once I committed to competing, I committed to the training. I filled in the entry form (where she entered the long jump and 4x100m relay) and thought, this is for real.”
In her first few sessions back Chantal understandably felt “rusty” and “un-coordinated” – although she admits the initial battle was less physical than mental.
“I remember what I used to be capable of and that doesn’t translate to what you capable of now,” she says. “Today, I have a house to run, a job, and a toddler. I was conscious that I was doing this for fun and I couldn’t let it impact on other parts of my life.
“I did a series of 100m time trials as a gauge for where I was at, and my times ranged from everything from 11.7 to 15 seconds hand-timed! It was probably somewhere in between that. It took me a long time for me to get my head around the fact I needed to dismiss what I had done in the past because this had no bearing on the present. Six metres (in the long jump) used to be a doddle, but now six metres really is the new seven metres.”
Training out of the Owairaka athletics track in the Auckland suburb of Sandringham sessions could come to an abrupt end thanks to her two-year-old, Toby, who sometimes understandably found the waiting for mum to finish training challenging.
Yet over time she came to terms with the far from perfect preparation and improvements were made.
“Once I started to be a bit more consistent everything started to come back,” says Chantal, who has held a range of sports administration roles and is currently one of 18 global representatives on the executive committee of the World Olympians Association.
“As long as I didn’t do too much, then the physical toll was not bad. I almost had to walk away (from some sessions) knowing I had still had something in the tank.”
To further aid the New Zealand long jump record holder’s World Masters Games preparations, she enjoyed several sessions training alongside joint New Zealand 100m hurdles record holder Rochelle Coster and her coach Joe Hunter “who were very generous with their feedback.” She also joined in some sessions with former training partner sprinter Ben Potter, and after jumping 5.06m for a national W45 record in a pre-Games meet in Auckland she was optimistic of a good showing at World Masters Games.
The nine-time New Zealand senior long jump champion did not disappoint. Six times she jumped in excess of five metres with a best of 5.21m earning long jump gold and a to-be ratified new New Zealand age-group record.
“I would have liked a bit more on the day, but ultimately I was just grateful to be out there competing,” she says. “Towards the end of my ‘first career’ I was always battling niggles so to be able to go out there and compete injury-free with no expectations was a real thrill.”
Later in the week she also secured gold in the women’s 4x100m running the anchor leg for the experienced ‘We’re Back Too” quartet which also included Simone Fougere, Sarah Cowley (2012 Olympic heptathlete) and Jane Muir (nee Arnott, a two-time Commonwealth Games 400m representative) in a time of 53.53.
“Really the first three runners did all the work,” she adds modestly. “All I had to do was get the baton around and reach the finish line without falling over. Competing in the relay was a fantastic reason for us to get together, share each other’s company and giggle about the old days. The event was a lot of fun and that shared camaraderie was the best part of the event.”
Yet is Chantal tempted to compete in more masters’ competitions?
“It is quite demanding on the family and I’m looking forward to not having to race out of the house on Tuesday/Thursday mornings to training,” she says. “If I’m going to compete again the challenge for me is to maintain that balance and not having to worry about where to train every weekend. But I would never say never.”