Sonny Bill Williams may be in France now, but he could well have been in Beijing competing to become the next world champion _ in the high jump.
The 23-year-old _ whose decision to switch from rugby league to union has simultaneously caused controversy and excitement _ excelled in athletics as a youngster, with high jump being his forte, a former coach from Williams' old club says.
Ross Lipscombe, chairman at Marist Saints Auckland rugby league club in Mt Albert, first met a young Sonny Bill at the local athletics club, where Williams and his younger sisters were carving up in the track and field events.
"He was a sprinter and a thrower, but he was so good in high jump. He wasn't really relatively interested in it, but he was good _ he won the high jump at the school champs one year and was about a centimetre from breaking the record which had been held for years. [But] he only wanted to play footy," Mr Lipscombe said.
"He could've made it to the Olympics, he was so good. If he had the dedication, he would've been there. But he was the first to pull out of it. He had another passion."
It was at Mt Albert's rugby league club that Sonny Bill Williams _ the league star _ was born, as a strong passion for the game was developed right from the start, Mr Lipscombe said.
"He was a star in the making _ he stood out. I could say he was very keen on sport [and] even at that young age, he could've been good at rugby league with the big boys.
"He was very good and from being very good he became outstanding."
Yesterday, lawyers for the Canterbury Bulldogs _ Williams' former league club _ were at the NSW supreme court in Sydney, where they sought to get an injunction which would prevent Williams from playing union at the Toulon club in France.
Although there had been much criticism of the 23-year-old's decision to leave the Bulldogs and ultimately rugby league for rugby union, Mr Lipscombe acknowledged Williams' genuine good nature.
"He's very generous and giving towards his family. He's got a good heart," Mr Lipscombe said.
"When he came back [to visit], I was most pleased when he came back _ he came down to the park where we were training and surprised me.
"He walked up to everyone _ the club people, the older people _ and spoke to each and every one of them.
"We thought he was mighty for that _ a lot of the boys being shy or because he was up there now _ but he walked up to everyone and that's what I'd always remembered."By Vaimoana Tapaleao Email Vaimoana