New Zealand high jump champion Hamish Kerr re-emerged to the fore this season after 18 months away from the sport. Steve Landells chats to the Palmerston North-based student about the ups and downs of his career so far and his future aspirations.

With a date at the World University Games in Taipei looming for Hamish Kerr, it is hard to believe how far the high jumper has come in such a short period of time.

After a year-and-a-half from the sport following a chronic bout of shin splints, the 1.98m tall high jumper only returned to training in September last year where he modestly jumped in several sessions with the kids at the Manawatu Community Athletics Track in Palmerston North.

"I started the sport again with a completely clean slate, so I stripped everything back," explains Hamish. "For the first six weeks or so I stepped over low hurdles and carrying out the other drills with the kids to rebuild my technique."

Such has been his lengthy period out of the sport when he returned to jumping with his coach, Anne Thompson, two new training partners unaware of Hamish's past as a 2015 New Zealand champion commented to the 2015 New Zealand high jump champion: "Don't worry. We remember our first time (training session) as well.

The 20-year-old high jumper laughs at the memory but after twice achieving 2.17m during the 2017 domestic campaign - a height which earned him a qualification mark for the World University Games but advanced him to third on the all-time New Zealand lists behind Glenn Howard and Roger Te Puni - the 20-year-old faces an exciting future.

Raised in Auckland, Hamish was inspired to start athletics after watching "a guy jump around 1.25m in the high jump at my primary school" (Maungawhau School in Mt Eden).

Despite his initial fascination with the high jump after he joined Roskill South AC aged nine he featured chiefly as a middle-distance and cross country runner. Later he moved down in distance settling on the 300m hurdles until experiencing a moment of clarity as a Year 12 student at Auckland Grammar School.

"I was busting a gut doing the 300m hurdles and other running events, but I was not super fond of being tired. I'd tried out a little at the high jump (he was the 2013 North Island Champion) and I was doing just as well (as I was at 300m hurdles). It was then I thought, why am I doing this? My future isn't as a runner."

Aged 17 Hamish switched his sole athletics focus to high jump and under the coaching of Paul Lothian earned quick rewards. In 2014 he successfully cleared 2.00m for the first time and ended the year as New Zealand Secondary Schools champion with a best of 2.08m.

In early 2015 he moved south to start a Bachelor in AgriCommerce but was increasingly managing a shin splints issue. His season plateaued, training became increasingly fractured but he opted to compete in both the senior men's and U20 men's competition at the 2015 New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington.

"Having some fun" competing in the senior men's competition he won gold with a new PB of 2.13m. Told he had jumped the landmark seven foot on closer inspection he has fallen just short (seven feet is 213.36cm), so the next day returned to complete that goal to bank the under-20 title with a 2.14m clearance.

Elated with the performance the then 18-year-old was predicted for bigger and better things yet the shin issue worsened leaving him in so much pain it would wake him at night.

"I'm very much an all or nothing person, I grew really frustrated so decided to take some time out of the sport, he explains. "I remember a low point was reading the 2016 nationals was won with a height of 1.96m - a height I could clear in training most days."

Yet after his university invited Hamish to speak at a sports awards and as he took time out to share his experiences he realised he missed the thrill of athletics and he returned to train with Anne Thompson and, initially at least, the kids group at Palmerston North Athletics and Harrier club.

Stripping back his technique has had a positive impact. He leaped 2.10m in Auckland last November and at the Porritt Classic in February he achieved the World University Games mark of 2.17m.

"I think what was more of a dream at first become more of a goal as the season progressed," explains Hamish. "I felt good that day (at Porritt Classic). It was hot, I jumped 2.15m for a new PB and then cleared 2.17m. It was just one of those days when I cleared all of my targets."

He narrowly missed out on 2.20m before two weeks later proving it was no fluke at the Manawatu Wanganui Championships by once again clearing 2.17m. Later in the summer Hamish regained his New Zealand national senior title with a best of 2.15m and also placed fifth with 2.15m in his maiden overseas appearance at the Australian Championships.

Since the end of the domestic campaign, Hamish has undergone an intense period of conditioning work but also made some significant technical changes.

"I've changed up my run up which will hopefully allow me to run a lot faster," he says. "I used to jump with a six-steps forward and three steps on the curve now I have two forward and five steps on the curve, which I will increase to nine steps (total). It is probably the biggest technical change I've ever made."

With a handful of competitions planned before his date at the World University Games, Hamish hopes to be humming leading into his big date in Taipei. With the previous World University Games high jump title secured with a top-class clearance of 2.31m, the Kiwi fully understand the scale of his task, but he is nonetheless optimistic of a good showing.

"I'm still pretty fresh off an injury and I've only been back ten months, but I think I can go high there (in Taipei)," he says. "Looking at past World University Games, if I jump 2.20m that will pretty much guarantee me a place in the final and if I get to the final anything can happen."

Looking further ahead he believes the 2018 Commonwealth Games B standard of 2.24m is within "the realm of possibility" with the longer term goal the Tokyo 2020 Games. Yet he refuses to put a limit on what he thinks he can achieve.

"I would like to see how far I can go," he says. "There are areas I feel like I can improve and I'll only be happy when I know I've reached a stage when I can't jump any higher," he says.

"Getting a PB is the greatest feeling in the world. I'm addicted to that feeling. That's what really pushes me."