Above: Marshall Hall collecting his eighth NZ discus title in Hamilton. Photo by Alan McDonald / MacSpeedfoto.
Marshall Hall climbed to number four on the all-time New Zealand lists after hurling the discus 60.77m in Auckland last month. Steve Landells speaks to the eight-time New Zealand champion about his journey in the sport and future ambitions.
Standing at an imposing 2.01m it is perhaps no great surprise to learn Marshall Hall excelled in basketball in his younger days.
A former New Zealand Under-18 player he grew up dreaming of playing in the NBA, but after undergoing back surgery at university, medics advised him to quit the sport.
Wanting a new outlet for his physical gifts he instead focused his efforts on discus – and after finally cracking the 60m barrier earlier this season – it is not a decision he has regretted.
“I had three disc bulges and a dehydrated disc (he explains of his basketball injury) and after I came back after a year the surgeons said, no more basketball,” he recalls. “They were concerned at the amount of jumping and jarring (of the back). Some would argue the pressure I face lifting weights and the plyometric work we do as a discus thrower is a lot more severe and punishing on the body then basketball training. But the doctor’s decision led me down the path of discus, and I think it was the right one.”
Born and bred in Invercargill, the decision to focus on athletics was not made on a whim. Tall and lean with relatively long levers his body type was well suited to the event. He also had a promising background in the sport as a two-time New Zealand Secondary Schools bronze medallist despite training for a period of just weeks before the event.
“As I’d only really put a minimal effort into discus but could still win national medals, I knew I had potential,” he explains. “I knew If I focused a little but more on it, I could do something.”
His hunch proved right.
Just three months after starting serious training the then 20-year-old under the guidance of Raylene Bates secured the 2009 national senior title with a best of 49.59m. Marshall, who was based in Dunedin at the time, went on to grab the next three national titles yet his development was bedevilled by injury.
Each winter from 2009 to 2012 he suffered one serious injury and underwent back, shoulder and knee surgery and also sustained a broken foot.
It is testament to Marshall’s mental fortitude that despite this he continued to improve each year but made the decision in 2013 to head north to “broaden my horizons” and live in Auckland.
Fully appreciative of the significant role Raylene Bates played in his early development, he linked up with Matt Dallow as his new coach and his training regime was radically overhauled.
“I had just come off shoulder surgery and it felt like I started training again from scratch,” he explains. “At the time I was tall and thin at 103kg and the first thing I did was try and put on some weight. I went on a diet of five meals a day and trained like a weightlifter for my first couple of years in Auckland. I quickly got up over 120kg (Marshall currently weighs in at 125kg). Putting on the weight has really allowed me to develop that strength and power base.”
Under the tutelage of Dallow he also changed his technical throwing model and worked hard on developing his plyometric ability. Yet because he is still prone to back issues and high levels of inflammation he has to manage the workload carefully.
Believing his slightly susceptible body is a result of his genetics – his 5ft 11ins tall sister has also undergone back surgery – coupled with the heavy training workload, Marshall who works full-time for the Ministry of Social Development working with youth offenders adopts a sensible approach.
“I know I have to manage my training, he explains. “Sometimes a have to limit for training to eight throws a session. Every athlete is different and I know when I need to hold back and when to push things.”
With a new regime in place under Dallow – whom he describes as “a great motivator, very scientific and very high-performance driven” - the man from the deep South has improved markedly in recent seasons. Consistently improving since his arrival in Auckland he has been knocking on the door of smashing through the 60m barrier for several seasons.
Tasting global competition for the first time at the 2015 World University Games in Korea – where he placed ninth – was “a great experience.”
But it has been the 2016-17 domestic campaign when we have seen the very best of the long-limbed thrower, who has unleashed three of the four longest throws in his career including that 60.77m effort at ACA Club meeting in Auckland. It was a hugely satisfying moment which fills him with optimism for the future.
“As athletes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves but we also face a lot of external pressure too from people with high expectations of me,” he explains. “I’m a big guy with a big build, but people often don’t understand my past history and past judgements. I too had put myself under a lot of pressure for a long time to break 60m was a big mental barrier for me. I now see myself in a different light.”
The question is why has Marshall been able to put together such a great season?
“I think it is just down to a lot of consistent training,” he adds. “Since I arrived in Auckland I’ve had four good winters training. I’ve monitored my body better and adopted a more therapeutic approach. I have a lot more emphasis on rehab and pre-hab to get my body ready for big lifting.”
Encouraged by the fact he has set a PB in every single season of his season career – except in 2016 when he fell just 9cm shy of his 2015 best – Marshall still aged just 28 believes his best years are still to come.
And in another interesting aside he has achieved his more recent success despite having to overcome a couple of significant changes to his training regime.
Having recently taken up a position as a boarding tutor at King’s College, which has meant shifting his training base to the South Auckland facility from AUT Millenium, and he has also had to cope with the inconvenience of his coach departing to live in San Francisco.
Yet with typical unfussy nature he has found no great hardship in the recent changes.
“I’m really lucky in that King’s College has world-class facilities with a track, throwing circles, pool and gym,” insists Marshall.
“As for Matt leaving, it is not ideal not to have him there with you at training every day because Matt is so meticulous in training. But I have Tim Driesen (the Athletics New Zealand High Performance Athlete Development Leader) helping me out and I still communicate every day around training (with Matt). The coaching set up with Matt has worked out much better than I thought.”
After a pivotal domestic campaign, Marshall hopes to spend some time training and competing in Northern California in May in an effort to achieve the Commonwealth Games standard of 63m. Beyond that his “ultimate goal” is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and he draws encouragement from the fact many world-class discus throwers don’t reach their peak until their early to mid-30s.
With his career clearly on the rise, few would bet against him one day fulfilling his ambitions and clearly he has a man comfortable with his decision to focus on discus.
“Choosing athletics was a good one for me because I like the aspect of being involved in an individual sport”, he explains. “I’m quite intrinsically driven to succeed in everything I do and love the fact it is down to me. I love chasing goals and proving people wrong. I want to achieve at the highest level.”