Above: Hamish Gill on his way to victory at the New Zealand Championships in a World Junior Champs qualifying time. Photo by Alisha Lovrich TempoShot.nz.
Hamish Gill is among a clutch of exciting Kiwi under-20 sprint talent bound for the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz in July. Steve Landells chats to the teenage speedster about his rise and his hopes for his first major international assault.
An athlete is nothing without a good coach and this phrase particularly rings true of sprinter/long jumper Hamish Gill.
Since the 19-year-old Aucklander joined Elena Brown four years ago, he credits the Russian-born coach for transforming his career which is set to take Hamish to the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz in both the 200m and the 4x100m relay.
“I have an incredible amount of respect for her,” explains Hamish of Elena. “She has completely changed the way I approach athletics.”
Born in Lower Hutt, Hamish was to spend his formative years on the move with his family firstly living in Hong Kong and later Australia.
It was during his time in Sydney playing football as a year one student when he first noticed a natural ability to run fast and when the family resettled on Auckland’s North Shore aged nine he joined the North Harbour Bays club.
Not that he has particularly fond memories of his sprinting debut.
“I ran with some Nike shoes, which I thought would make be run really fast, but I finished last,” he says laughing at the memory. “My mum then suggested I should just run and barefoot and from that point on I started winning.”
Aged ten he revealed his burgeoning talent by snaring a quintet of golds - in the 100m, 200m, long jump, high jump and 4x100m relay - at the Colgate Games in Inglewood.
Hamish continued to impress on the national scene but for much of his high school years his athletics focus was compromised by a blossoming career on the football field, where he played as a centre back for Forrest Hill Milford.
Yet after being introduced to Elena his athletics career was to take a significant turn.
“I sat down with Elena and my parents and realised I probably wouldn’t have a football future as not too many pro footballers come out of New Zealand,” he says. “I found athletics more interesting and I liked the fact it was an individual sport and I could rely on myself.”
Up until that point chiefly a high jumper he had grown frustrated with the event, so Elena and Hamish opted to change focus to the long jump and sprints. The move worked and in 2013 and 2014 he landed successive national men’s under-18 long jump crowns and back-to-back 100m silver medals. Last year he went one better by securing the junior men’s long jump and 100m national double and added 40cm on to his lifetime best from 2014 with a leap of 7.25m.
Hamish admits it took time to adapt to Elena’s training regime, but over time he has come to see the benefits and fully acknowledges her qualities.
“People think that Elena can be a hard coach because she is from Russia, and although she likes to work us hard I have a lot of respect for her,” explains Hamish, a Massey University student. “If we have an injury she is incredibly cautious about what we do in training. I like being coached by Elena. I like to work hard. It is something I look forward to every day.”
A tendinitis problem in both ankles triggered by striking the long jump board severely restricted his ability to train for long jump in the countdown to the 2015-16 campaign. However, the injury did not significantly impair his ability to run. Focusing on greater speed endurance work with more 300m sessions and reps introduced into his programme has aided the 1.90m tall athlete’s 200m and it is no coincidence this is event where he has made the most significant gains this year.
Back in November at Mt Smart Stadium he posted a blistering 21.10 – a full tenth of a second below the World Junior qualification mark - for the half lap event. However, frustratingly, a connection issue between the gun and the start declared the time unofficial.
For the following three months or so the former Westlake Boys High School student fought hard to once again dip below the magic 21.20 until a conversation between the teenage sprinter and his coach proved decisive ahead of the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Dunedin.
“She sat me down and told me, ‘to not worry about the time and just enjoy the race’,” adds Hamish. ‘Try to run the first 30m of the race like a 100m and the rest will fall into place’.”
Running 21.59 into a 1.3ms/s headwind in the heat offered the teenager encouragement and then in the final he unleashed a spectacular run to post 21.09 and add a third gold medal of the championships to the 100m (10.82) and long jump (7.36m) junior titles.
“It was a moment of huge relief,” says Hamish, who of securing the 200m World Junior qualification time. “I’d been chasing the time for so long and it had been weighing on me.”
The following month he trimmed a further 0.04 from his PB at the Australian Championships as he posted a time of 21.05 to add further confidence to his rising belief.
It was not, however, the perfect season. The injury issues and lack of long jump training meant he fell some way short of the World Junior qualification standard in his favourite event.
Meanwhile, illegal wind readings twice denied him a legitimate World Junior qualification mark in the 100m. Yet he earned some consolation by earning a spot on New Zealand’s 4x100m relay team.
“I’m extremely happy to be selected (for the relay),” he says. “I’m very happy to be running with a great bunch of people. It would be awesome if we could stick together as a team right through to the Gold Coast, Commonwealth Games (in 2018).”
Yet what does he hope to achieve in his individual event Bydgoszcz?
“I’d love to make final the world junior final in the 200m,” adds Hamish. “I definitely have the potential to run under 21 seconds.”
Training five times a week alongside his inspirational training partner national senior 100m and long jump Matthew Wyatt his future would appear to rosy and he has some big ambitions in the sport beyond the World Junior Championships.
“My ultimate goal is achieve an Olympic qualification – that would be incredible,” he adds.