Editorial: It took guts for Gill to say no, risk disapproval

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Jacko Gill. Photo / Dean Purcell
Jacko Gill. Photo / Dean Purcell

Being a prodigy inevitably brings heightened expectation. Whatever the field of endeavour, a young person's exceptional ability will always mean outstanding feats are anticipated, often within an unrealistic time frame. That expectation is writ large for Jacko Gill. The 17-year-old's astounding shot-putting ability had many New Zealanders imagining he would win a medal at this year's Olympic Games. Those same people are now bemused, and somewhat annoyed, that he has decided to bypass London in favour of the world junior championships in Barcelona a few weeks earlier.

Some of their irritation has also been directed towards Athletics New Zealand and a seemingly convoluted selection procedure that, according to Gill, left him little option but to choose the junior event. He has met the "B" qualifying standard for London set by the International Amateur Athletics Federation and a tougher performance standard set by Athletics NZ.

But he has not met the IAAF's "A" qualifying standard which, effectively, would have qualified him automatically for the Olympics and enabled New Zealand to select more than one shot-putter. As it stood, Athletics NZ had no choice but to delay Gill's inclusion, so another shot-putter, Tom Walsh, had the chance to meet the "B" standard. It would have been in trouble if Walsh had succeeded, yet Gill had already been selected as the country's only eligible entrant.

Athletics NZ has simply followed proper process, and it is somewhat misleading of Gill to talk of goalposts being moved. Similarly, he seems not to have alerted local officials of the difficulties he foresaw in switching from the 6kg shot used by juniors to the 7.26kg Olympics ball. The situation changed when he missed initial selection in the national squad, and decided that waiting until two weeks before the Olympics for confirmation of his inclusion would be untenable.

That opens Gill up to accusations of impetuosity. But, whatever the circumstances, this was always a decision for him to make. It had to be governed by what he thought was right for his development, not other people's expectations. Time will probably prove that he has chosen wisely. Shot-putters reach their peak in their 30s. It would have been a giant step for Gill, whatever his immense talent for his age, to compete at the Olympics.

Whatever some may have thought, more knowledgeable people saw Gill finishing only in the top 16 at London, and quite some way from the medals. His world ranking is 30, after all. There might have been some gain in terms of Olympic experience, but the event is not some sort of development school. Athletics NZ is stressing increasingly that competitors should have a medal in their sights, not be there simply to make up the numbers.

All too often, young New Zealand sportsmen and women are promoted too quickly. If that is understandable in a sparsely populated country with a corresponding dearth of international-class talent, it is hardly ideal. It takes a strong personality to stand against this and decide on a path that will frustrate many sports followers. Whatever his motivation, Gill has done that. There will probably be at least four Olympics after London on which he can stamp his mark. Taking his time may well result in his potential being most fully realised. New Zealanders should be happy to share his patience.

- NZ Herald

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