Youth Olympic Games-bound Dominic Overend is creating waves as one of New Zealand’s finest teenage sprinters. Steve Landells chats to the 16-year-old Aucklander to discover his elixir for success.
If you want a measure of the sprinting talent of Dominic Overend, the bald statistics say everything. Ranked the 2018 joint number two in the country for 100m and outright number two for the 200m (behind Joseph Millar in both events) if that is not sufficiently eye-catching how many 16-year-old’s do you know who have covered 100m in 10.5?
Impressed? You should be, yet perhaps his propensity to run swiftly is not so much of a mystery when we consider his gene pool.
His grandfather, Wayne Overend, secured the 1967 New Zealand 100yd and 220yd titles, while his father, David, was a handy club level sprinter and long jumper. Just for good measure mum, Maria, competed as a school high jumper.
Dominic’s athletics journey began early. Aged two he joined the Ellerslie Athletics Club and by the time he was seven he was breaking Auckland sprint records competing for Riverhead Athletics Club.
However, just as his burgeoning athletics career was starting to flourish, from the age of eight to 11 the Coatsville-raised youngster was forced to take a long break from sport after it was found a bent lumber was leading to a succession of injuries.
Orthotics and a change to his running style eased the problem and he thankfully finally returned to the sport and Dominic’s athletics career started to build momentum after joining Auckland Grammar School as a boarder aged 13. Immersed in the school’s excellent athletics programme he tried several events smashing under-14 school records in the 100m hurdles, 300m and long jump.
“Grant McNeil was running the programme back then and he was a former Commonwealth Games 110m hurdler he was keen to get me involved in the hurdles,” Dominic explains. “The school has always had a very established athletics programme and for this year’s New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships we plan to send along 80 students to compete.”
Developing nicely, the next key staging post in has athletics career came in April 2016 after he was introduced to Matthew Wyatt, the three-time former New Zealand long jump champion and 2016 national 100m gold medallist.
Exciting to take up the opportunity to be guided by one of the country’s leading sprinter-long jumpers, Wyatt set about remodelling the technique of the raw but talented teenager.
“He fully changed the way I ran biomechanically to make me much more efficient and less prone to injuries,” he explains. “I used to scuff the front in front, which would cause a breaking force. He has now improved both my back and front mechanics.”
Spending a whole winter under Wyatt’s tutelage proved devastatingly effective as he romped to gold in the junior boys 200m in 23.00 at the 2016 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Auckland after executing his coach’s tactics to the letter.
“In the heats, coach told me to run to 50m and then switch off the engines. In the quarter finals, it was run to 60m and then switch off the engines and in the semi-finals it was the same tactic but to 80m. In the final I ran full out (to take gold) and I think that was the moment I learned to trust what Matt could do for me.”
Later that domestic season more success followed competing in the U18 division at the 2017 New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hamilton. Entering for the experience, he defied modest expectations to obliterate his previous personal best by exactly half-a-second to win silver in 22.23 – behind James Guthrie-Croft.
“I was happy to finish second because I knew I had more years in the grade to come,” he recalls.
He moved on the Australian Championships in Sydney with renewed optimism. However, in the final he was forced to slow down in the 200m final – where he wound up fourth – after feeling a sharp pain in his heel.
The problem persisted and it took a full three months for medics to identify a small piece of overgrown bone had broken from the heel.
Undergoing keyhole surgery to remove the bone, Dominic was put in a moon boot for four weeks and only returned to running in October – just two months ahead of the 2017 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships.
Unable to run bends following the heel surgery, Dominic instead focused on the 100m in Hastings but what followed next surprised the Waitakere City AC athlete as he struck a decisive gold in a wind-assisted 10.83.
“That’s the moment I thought, if I keep pushing I really have a big future in the sport,” he explains of winning the national secondary schools 100, crown.
Three months later In Hamilton he backed this up by securing the New Zealand U18 title in 11.08 into a 1.3m/s headwind before moving on to the Australian Championships in Sydney – the meet where he was to unleash what he describes as the best race of his career.
Competing in steamy conditions in excess of 35c in his heat he blitzed to a national U17 record of 10.75 to set himself up nicely for the final some three hours later – or so he thought.
He decided to return to the hotel for something to eat. However, after just starting to chew on a BLT Lower Hutt sprinter Nick Smith told him because of the intense heat they had brought the final forward from the original schedule and it was now only 15 minutes away!
“I’m running back to the stadium, which was about a 1km away calling Matt who is back in New Zealand. Matt calmed me down and said, ‘it is hot so you will plenty warm enough. Just jog back, go for a stretch, do one block start and you will be ready’.
“I got the marshalling tent just in time, started chewing on some gum and started to calm down. By the time I started my race, I felt mentally good.”
Despite the two athletes to his immediate left hand side getting away to a better start and trailing the duo by one metre in the early stages of the final, Dominic refused to panic and hauled himself clear of the pair to stop the clock in a wind assisted 10.59 to strike gold in the U17 100m final.
“I let out a massive shout as I crossed the line, it was a crazy time, I was blown away,” he explains. ”I would have found it very hard to imagine winning gold after undergoing surgery just eight months earlier.”
Yet his Sydney success was far from the end point to his ambitions in 2018. After mum had read an Athletics NZ newsletter the previous year asking for expressions of interest in the Youth Olympic Games qualifying for the multi-sport event in Buenos Aries for U18 athlete had been a big priority.
To qualify he needed to win at the Melanesian Championships in Vanautu in May. Competing against a clutch of Australians with a superior PB, Dominic nonetheless out-dipped the opposition to snatch 100m gold into a string headwind in 11.02
Having already secured his place on the team for Argentina and with the pressure valve released the 6ft 1ins tall speedster then sparkled in his favoured 200m, scalping 0.27 from his personal best to record 21.57 and secure the sprint double.
“Matt picked that I could run 21.5 if I had a good bend,” he explains. “It was a great feeling.”
Restricted to one event only for the Youth Olympic Games he has selected the 200m – the event he feels better suited.
“I enjoy the tactical side of the event and the technical elements,” he explains. “I love running bends and coming into the home straight and hearing the crowd roar. It is a nice feeling.”
Running four days a week at Mt Smart Stadium and also incorporating two plyometric and one weight session – the latter only introduced in the past three months – his preparations for the Youth Olympic Games have gone well and he is hopeful he can put on a good show in the Argentinian capital.
“I’m really looking forward to chucking on the Black Singlet and to set a PB would be amazing,” he explains of his Youth Olympic Games hopes. “It will be my first major international competition and I’m sure it will be a massive experience competing in front of big crowds. It will be a big learning curve. To make the final would be the ultimate goal.”
In the longer term, Dominic hopes to make the team for the Paris 2024 Olympics and set New Zealand records for the 100m and 200m. They are ambitious targets but with coach Wyatt – whom he describes as a “technical genius” - in his corner he believes anything is possible.
“I enjoy the technical side of the sport, I really like training with Matt and learning new things, “he adds. “I like that feeling of seeing my running improve.”