Above: Brisbane- based Katrina Robinson has committed to competing for New Zealand.
Brisbane-based Kiwi Katrina Robinson has been making waves with some outstanding performances over the past 12 months or so. Steve Landells chats to the Commonwealth Youth Games-bound teenage middle-distance athlete about her dazzling recent form and her decision to commit to New Zealand.
With a background that straddles three continents and four countries – talented teenage endurance athlete Katrina Robinson had various routes with which to develop her fledgling international career.
Yet it is to the credit of New Zealand – the birth land of her mother – that for future competitions she has committed to competing in the Black Singlet, where she will make her debut at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Bahamas in July.
Born in Austin, Texas to a Napier-raised mum, Rosalie, and an English dad, John, Katrina then relocated with her parents for a year in Auckland before moving to Brisbane aged two, where the family have remained ever since.
Eligible to represent the US, England or New Zealand – although significantly not Australia because she does not have citizenship – Katrina committed last year to the latter. For her, it was a simple choice.
“New Zealand is the country I have more of a connection to (than the US or the UK),” she says. “My two older sisters were both born in Auckland, it is closer to Australia location-wise and last year I joined Auckland City AC.”
Katrina’s athletics journey began with Little Athletics aged six at the Thompson Estate and Eastern Suburbs Athletics club. Initially starting out for fun it was only a little later when stepping up to the longer distances did she discover her talent. Aged eight she won the Queensland All Schools’ Cross Country Championships and she has remarkably gone on to snare nine age group state cross country titles in the past ten years –only missing out on the 2016 crown because she was competing at another event.
Success has come consistently for the diminutive Brisbane State High School student – which cites Rio 2016 decathlete Cedric Dubler and 1956 Olympic 4x100m relay gold medallist Norma Crocker among its former students.
However, it was last year when Katrina enjoyed her “breakthrough year” on both the national and international stage. In April, the Kiwi competed at the World Schools Cross Country Championships in Budapest, in what was to prove an unforgettable experience for the then 15-year-old.
“I didn’t really know what to expect because it was my first international (running) experience, but it was such a fun trip,” she recalls. “We travelled to Prague, Vienna and Budapest which were all beautiful cities – although I was not used to the cold weather.
“Thankfully, race day was quite warm, which was good because I’m better in warm temperatures. I knew I was in good form coming into the race and I thought I could maybe win a medal. But to win the race by three seconds (from compatriot Lauren Ryan who has gone on to compete at an IAAF World Cross Country Championships) was an amazing feeling.
“To win there gave me a lot of confidence and proved I could compete against the best. It was really good to know my hard work had paid off.”
The rest of the 2016 went like a charm. She secured victory in the girls’ 16-17 age group at the Australian All-Schools Cross Country Championships in Canberra by a victory margin of 21 seconds. Then back in the Australian capital in December she claimed a stunning 1500m and 3000m double at the Australian All-Schools Track and Field Championships with the Kiwi taking a comprehensive win in the seven-and-a-half lap race by almost six seconds in a time of 9:38.22.
Katrina is at a loss to explain why she enjoyed so much success in 2016 but if the first half of 2017 is anything to go by then this year is shaping up to be even better.
At the Sydney Invitational in February she scalped almost eight seconds from her PB to run a hugely impressive 4:18.73 in a race won by Rio 2016 Olympian Jenny Blundell.
“It was a surprise because I’d come off a break in December but I had the opportunity to run against some older runners in a pack the whole way and I think this helped me,” she explains. “It was a great experience.”
In her more favoured 3000m she posted a new PB of 9:17.42 in Brisbane four days later but since then and after securing selection for the New Zealand team to run the 1500m and 3000m at the Commonwealth Youth Games, the previously self-coached athlete has undergone some significant changes.
Wanting some training guidance, she has hooked up with Jackson Elliot’s Gold Coast-based squad over the past couple of months and she has found the move invigorating for her athletics career.
“While I learned a lot from both coaching myself and training on my own, setting my own programme was difficult,” explains Katrina. “Since I started training with Jackson I’ve enjoyed training and I’m happy after sessions. It is good to have a coach, who I can trust and guide me and when I train at Gold Coast (which she does once a week) I know there is always someone there to push me in training.”
Stepping up her training from five to six days a week she limits her training to around 60km a week – typically comprising three sessions, two longer runs and an easy run - the proud New Zealander, who last month lowered her 3000m PB to 9:15.32 on Gold Coast, eclipsing the New Zealand under 17 record by almost two seconds, is relishing the prospect of competing at Commonwealth Youth Games.
“I just want to go and give it the best that I have, she says. “I know there is good competition in both the 1500m and 3000m but I would maybe like a medal in both. Last week my uniform arrived and I was really excited to see it. I love the colours - black and white. It will be good to wear it.”
In the longer term, Katrina is looking to qualify for the 2018 IAAF World U20 Championships in Finland with the ultimate dream to compete at the Olympic Games. Citing four-time Olympic distance champion Mo Farah of Great Britain and the late, great US distance legend Steve Prefontaine “because he was a front runner like me” as her track icons, the sport has given the talented teen so much.
“I love the feeling of enjoying a good race or workout,” she says. “I also enjoy being able to focus on a goal and do my best. It is a really rewarding sport.”