Otago-based endurance athlete Oli Chignell has enjoyed a successful 2019 recently winning the Oceania 5000m title in Townsville and also snaring a 5000m silver medal at the New Zealand Championships. Here the 21-year-old of the Hill City – University Athletic Club answers our Five Minutes With questions.
What is your best athletics quality?
Moderation and passion. I’ve been competing in athletics since the age of six and I have loved every second. In that time, I have seen so many athletes burnt out by doing too much, too soon. Not reaching this point is something I learned through my high school coach, Dave Stinson, and something which has continued through my current coach Chris Pilone. For me, moderation is about concentrating effort into weekly sessions and long runs, and recovering with very easy runs in between. To be a good athlete, you need to be smart.
Why would you encourage anyone to try athletics?
Athletics is one of the purest sports, because often it comes down to one race in an entire year to decide who is the best. So, you’ve got to be your absolute best on that day. It’s an inclusive sport with a huge array of disciplines and techniques, something you can never become tired of.
Who was your first coach and how did they influence your career?
My first coach in Dunedin was Jim Baird. He taught me a lot about showing up for every session and getting the work done. Jim worked his athletes very hard, but I also learned a lot about moderation and taking it easy when needed.
What are your athletics weaknesses?
Like many athletes, sometimes I can get ahead of myself and expect too much too quickly. I have to hold back sometimes to make sure I don’t overcook myself in training.
What is the funniest thing you’ve seen on an athletics track?
I’ve witnessed a few hilarious moments of the track including Mitchell Small beating Chris Dryden at Nationals celebrating with 200m to go. I’ve also seen some people get very angry/emotional and sometimes violent during races, that tickles the ribs a bit!
What is your favourite athletics session?
I love long runs. There is nothing better than having a group of guys meet up early morning in the weekend to smash out a 30km. It’s the kind of run where if you’re feeling good, you can tick off two-and-a-half hours like it’s a jog.
What is the greatest thing you’ve witnessed in an athletic stadium?
Watching Hamish Carson win a national (1500m) title in torrential rain in Dunedin. He threw himself over the line and was lucky there was an inch of water on the track to cushion his fall. I was aged only 13 or so at the time, and seeing that acted as the benchmark of where I wanted to be.
Who has been your toughest rival?
Growing up I had a real rivalry with Jack Beaumont. We would only race each other a handful of times but it was always fierce racing between us. Nowadays the biggest rival is the clock, or just whoever is in the lead with 150m to go.
If you could star in another sport which sport would it be?
Football. The amount of money in the sport is mind-blowing, even being a mid-level player can earn you a few hundred thousand a year!
When travelling to a meeting what is the most important item in your suitcase?
It would have to be my spikes or road shoes. One of the challenges of having size seven and a half feet is that is if you do forget your shoes it is hard to find a replacement. So, it’s a necessity to have by spikes or road shoes as carry-on luggage.
What is your greatest regret?
Letting the wheels come off my running career near the end of 2016. After my first year out of school I found myself involved in the Dunedin drinking scene. I was enjoying myself quite a bit and my running suffered. It took a hectic trip over New Year’s Eve for me to realise I needed to refocus, pull back, and figure out what I wanted. I then went on to win four National U20 medals in one year, which was a huge turnaround.
Who is the person who most admire?
I have an endless amount of admiration for my training partner Caden Shields. His perseverance in the sport, and his ability to give it to me straight when I need it most has shaped me into the athlete I am today. I look up to him a lot for advice and support, as well as guidance. I also have a lot of respect for Australian athletes such as Jack Rayner, Luke Mathews and Craig Mottram. All incredible athletes who are also just regular guys.
What are you most scared of?
Not living up to my potential as an athlete, or not making it as far in the sport as I think I can. I also hate horror movies, but my girlfriend forces me to watch them!
What is your favourite movie and why?
Southpaw. It’s your classic rock bottom to champion athlete movie. I love an underdog story.
When was the last time you looked at your athletics medals?
Just before I left New Zealand (for the recent Oceania Championships). I keep them in one of my drawers alongside my New Zealand singlet. I think it’s important to look back at previous results and remind yourself of how much you’ve grown as an athlete.