Jacko Gill in Christchurch (© Michael Dawson)
Given New Zealand’s status as a hot bed of world-class throws talent, it was little surprise that the shot, discus and hammer circles provided the headline acts at the International Track Meet in Christchurch – the opening World Athletics Continental Tour meeting of 2021.
In a world-class showdown between shot put heavyweights Jacko Gill and Tom Walsh, it was the former who maintained his recent ascendency at this Bronze level meeting, recording a third successive win over his arch rival, courtesy of a lifetime best first hurl of 21.52m.
At a chilly and blustery Nga Puna Wai stadium, Walsh responded with a season’s best 21.43m in round one and added 3cm onto this mark in round three.
However, the three-time world champion (one outdoor, two indoor) could not quite surpass his countryman on this occasion with Gill climaxing his competition with a handy 21.44m.
Gill was an outstanding age-group performer winning the World U18 title and successive World U20 titles, but he has struggled to translate that spectacular early success into the senior ranks.
In late 2017 he was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, myrocarditis of inflammation of the heart muscle that hinders his ability to pump blood around the body.
However, he has since made a full recovery and showed signs in 2019 he was becoming more accustomed with life on the senior stage when placing seventh at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha and posting a PB of 21.47m that season.
The enigmatic Gill, who remarkably also competed in Lower Hutt near Wellington earlier that day to mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of a throws academy of a good friend (note, he threw 21.19m) before flying down to Christchurch, said: “I’m stoked to get the win against Tom. He’s the best we’ve had (throwing the shot in New Zealand), so any time I can beat him it shows I’m going pretty well. I’m very happy.”
“He’s in a heavy phase (of training) and I’m maybe in a lighter phase. I’m sure Tom will be throwing over 22 metres soon. Having said that, I think there is more to come to from both of us.”
Adams reaches 18.41m
The grand Dame of New Zealand throwing, two-time Olympic champion and eight-time world champion Valerie Adams, claimed victory with a season’s best of 18.41m but was not totally satisfied with her display.
After recently relocating from her Auckland base to Christchurch to come under the guidance of coach Dale Stevenson, she opened with an 18.30m effort before before adding 11 centimetres in round two.
“I showed improved consistency and it was better tonight, although I was hoping for a bit more,” said Adams. “We’ve been working on a few things but it didn’t get it together tonight. It is a step in the right direction. We just need to keep working, look forward to the next competition and see if we can build on that.”
Another top-class thrower to make his mark was 2018 Youth Olympic gold medallist Connor Bell, who hurled the 2kg discus out to a meeting and stadium record mark of 63.93m.
The 19-year-old Aucklander, who like Gill is coached by Mike Schofield, set a New Zealand resident record of 64.29m in Hastings last month and is aiming to secure the Tokyo Olympic automatic qualification standard of 66m during the remainder of the New Zealand domestic season.
Another emerging thrower to feature in the Garden City was Oceania hammer record-holder Lauren Bruce. The 23-year-old Christchurch-based athlete impressed in front of her home fans, registering a best throw of 71.72m to rack up a seventh successive competition beyond the 70-metre mark.
The blustery conditions undoubtedly impacted on track performances, but the meet which was minus overseas athletes because of the strict border restrictions in New Zealand did serve up a number of interesting results.
Teenager and national 200m champion Eddie Osei-Nketia ran down emerging South African-born sprinter Tiaan Whelpton to clinch victory over the half-lap distance by 0.04 in 21.24 (-0.8m/s).
Hampered by a slight niggle, New Zealand’s fastest woman Zoe Hobbs, who powered to a resident 100m record of 11.35 last month, was found wanting in the women’s 200m, placing fourth in 25.06. Her training partner Georgia Hulls made the most of the opportunity to take out the win in 24.44 (-0.7m/s).
Hulls’ partner, Hamish Kerr, the joint New Zealand record-holder with 2.30m, has been in good form this season with a pair of 2.27m clearances, but today had to be satisfied with a best of 2.20m en route to victory in the men's high jump.
Running well below distance, Camille Buscomb, the 2019 World Championship 12th place finisher in the 5000m and 10,000m, claimed victory in the women’s 800m in 2:08.44.
Six-time national 1500m champion and Rio Olympian Hamish Carson outsprinted former world U20 800m semi-finalist James Preston to take victory over the metric mile in 3:44.63.
The meeting in Christchurch represented the first ITM meet to take place at an all-weather track since 2010. Four days before the scheduled 2011 edition, the city was struck by a huge earthquake which killed 185 people. Their home athletics stadium QEII Stadium was permanently damaged in the quake. The current all-weather facility – Nga Puna Wai – opened its doors in 2019.
Steve Landells for World Athletics