Sportsperson of the Year Finalist: Nikki Hamblin

By David Leggat

Every day this week we feature the finalists for the Herald Sportsperson of the Year. The top sportsperson will be revealed in the Weekend Herald on Saturday.

Nikki Hamblin reflects on winning silver in the 800m in the Commonwealth Games. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Nikki Hamblin reflects on winning silver in the 800m in the Commonwealth Games. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Before the Delhi Commonwealth Games, Nikki Hamblin was best known to the wider New Zealand audience as that blond runner in the promos before the October event.

But could she run? The answer was emphatic, in the form of two silver medals over 1500m and, four days later, the 800m.

It was the first time a New Zealand woman had won a Games track medal since Barbara Moore 20 years ago; Lorraine Moller, at Brisbane in 1982, is the only other woman - and fifth runner altogether - to have won two individual track medals at one event.

Hamblin's story is fascinating. British-born, she got her residence to run for New Zealand only last year.

The 22-year-old from Cambridge had an unsettled buildup to Delhi, battling heat, indigestion after racing and has had a fractious relationship with her coach Chris Pilone.

Indeed, another New Zealand middle distance runner, Paul Hamblyn, took over much of her training in Hong Kong in the leadup to the Games.

"We've managed to hold it together for the last part of the year, but it certainly hasn't been a cruise by any means," the straight-talking Pilone said in Delhi of their relationship. He likes her feistiness, though, and her competitive spirit.

In the 1500m, Hamblin ran what Pilone called a perfect championship race. She chased the Olympic champion, Nancy Langat of Kenya, down the home straight before settling for second crossing in 4min 05.97s, finishing prone on the track before throwing up.

A withdrawal from the 800m would have been a reasonable outcome in the circumstances. But Hamblin lined up a day after battling "Delhi belly" and finished just .04s behind Langat again, clocking 2:00.05.

"Obviously, I was a bit stuffed after the 1500m, but I had to refocus," she said.

Which she did with considerable spirit and aplomb.

She hung about afterwards keeping an ear on what Pilone was telling the media, too - "just checking what he was saying". She was half joking.

It's an interesting dynamic, the coach/athlete. "It was like watching Kiwi come home to win the 1983 Melbourne Cup," purred Pilone after the 800m final.

Unlike other Delhi medallists, Hamblin's double was unexpected, and all the more memorable for that.

So now it's onwards and upwards with the Olympics of 2012 in mind.

The days of Hamblin flying below the radar are over. The Delhi double has seen to that.

- NZ Herald

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