Above: Joseph Millar taking out the NZ 100m title at the national championships. Photo by Alisha Lovrich / Temposhot.
Joseph Millar shattered the 20-year-old national 200m record to complete the sprint double at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships last weekend Steve Landells speaks to Joseph’s coach, Dr Paul Gamble, to find out just how the World Championship-bound athlete achieved the feat.
When Paul Gamble first started coaching Joseph Millar in June 2015 he bluntly described the then six-time senior national sprint champion as “a broken man.” Ravaged by injury Joseph, aged 22 at the time, was a man in need of assistance.
“He has always been a very talented guy, but he had clearly lost his way,” explains Paul, who has a background (and PhD) in sports science and works as Coaching Director for the AUT-Millennium Athlete Development Programme.
“When I first met him he was clearly very committed and my aim was to match that commitment and put together a plan to put him back in one piece.”
Joseph was structurally struggling, carrying fractures in his back while the fibula in the lower left leg was repeatedly dislocating.
After Joseph made the commitment to relocate from Tauranga to Auckland it was Gamble’s role to re-build him from the ground up. Yet it was to prove a long, slow process.
“When Joseph arrived he did not have a clear idea on his integral technical model,” explains Paul. “We returned to fundamentals and a lot of ABC-type drills to piece together the different parts of his technique. We focused on quality rather than the volume. We worked on many aspects like how his feet connected to the ground and the finer, deeper nuances of sprinting.”
From a physical perspective, he received regular treatment from former High Performance Sport New Zealand physio Chelsea Lane (now working in the NBA as Head of Physical Performance and Sports Medicine with the Golden State Warriors) and Joseph was asked to carry out a range of drills and gym work to strengthen the back and lower leg.
He was also committed to a lot of self-therapy and although the process could be frustratingly slow, Joseph was encouraged that for the first time in a long time he was pain-free.
The next phase of his development came from September 2015 through to January 2016. In this period the pair patiently stepped up the training and progress was made.
“Every day he had a better mind and body connection,” explains Paul. “It was clear he was moving well, although not running fast at this stage.”
In January 2016 he ran a swift 10.36 for the 100m at the Capital Classic and then at Porritt Classic trimmed 0.04 from his 200m best, clocking 20.77. He ran two further 10.33 times in Canberra and Brisbane for the 100m and was “back on track again” before moving over to Europe to have a crack at the Olympic qualification standard for Rio.
Basing himself out of Lee Valley in North London to train in the same group as British 9.96 100m sprinter Chijindu Ujah he competed across part of the European summer. Unfortunately, he struggled to produce his best and after his gran became gravely ill he returned home to New Zealand.
“The trip to Europe didn’t go as planned, although looking back he had a great experience training with guys who were faster than him – which is certainly something Joseph wouldn’t have experienced in New Zealand.”
However, on his return in August, Joseph, who had struggled to settle in Auckland, decided to relocate back to Tauranga to be closer to family, and started work at a chiropractor’s clinic. With Paul and his family committed to Auckland the coach-athlete relationship stopped for a period as Joseph trained without a coach in his home town.
The pair always retained a cordial relationship and kept in touch and because Joseph felt he was lacking in efficiency the pair reunited once more in late-January with the sprinter opting to return to Auckland.
“Joseph watched the tape from the Classics series meets and saw his technique was breaking down and he came to the realisation this was because he didn’t have a set of coaching eyes on him,” explains Paul.
With very little time to work together ahead of the Nitro series in Melbourne the pair set about rectifying two major faults – one with his block start and one with Joseph’s top-end speed by improving his knee-lift. Fortunately, the changes were quickly addressed.
“Joseph has the ability to fix things really quickly and he went to Melbourne ready to race,” adds Paul.
In the red-hot atmosphere of the innovative Nitro Series, Joseph excelled. He won the 150m on the opening night, set a 100m PB of 10.30 to triumph on night two and ended a successful series at an electric Lakeside Stadium by finishing just 0.16 behind Jamaican sprinting icon Usain Bolt over 150m and also set a 60m PB of 6.70 for second - 0.08 behind former world 100m record holder Asafa Powell.
His performances as part of the series swelled his confidence as he revelled in the attention he received competing in the unique event.
Pursuing a World Championship 200m qualification standard of 20.44 at the Auckland Track Challenge he was unfortunate to run into a 2.5m/s headwind. He clocked a time of 21.17 to take victory but in the words of his coach “looked good and dominant.”
The following week at Auckland Championships he faced an excessive tailwind, running 10.11 (3.4m/s) and 20.57 (2.6m/s) for the 100m and 200m and then in Canberra he nailed PB’s of 10.24 for the 100m and 20.68 to creep closer to the qualification times for London (note, the 100m standard in 10.12).
Then Joseph delivered the performance of his career in Hamilton. After regaining his national 100m title – last won in 2014 – in a PB and resident record of 10.18 - he completed his fourth New Zealand senior sprint double in sensational fashion by blitzing to a new PB 20.37. In a little over 20 seconds he had not only destroyed his lifetime best by 0.31, Joseph had also attained the standard for the World Athletics Championships in London, chipped 0.05 from Chris Donaldson’s 20-year-old national record and set a national resident record.
So, what were coach’s thoughts on the performance?
“I thought he would run around 10.2 for the 100m and I was thinking around 20.5 for the 200m or maybe slightly better, so I was not too shocked,” he says.
“He’s always thought of himself as a 100m sprinter who also does the 200m. While others see him as more of a 200m sprinter, but I see him as equally good at both.”
According to Paul, Joseph possesses “a sprinter’s mentality” and has all the tools to run even faster in future. Competing against better athletes and on faster Mondo tracks in Europe later this year he believes will bring the best out of Joseph, who will not be fazed by top-level competition.
“He thrives competing in front of big crowds and he enjoys the attention and media exposure,” adds Paul. “In many ways, he is not a typical Kiwi in that he’s very goal-driven. He has his sights on being the fastest guy. He wants to run a sub-10 (100m) and sub-20 (200m) and he backs himself to do it.”