Athletics: Consistent Vili wins crowd

The New Zealand Championships were graced by an Olympic presence, if not quite an Olympic performance, when shot put champion Valerie Vili yesterday gave QEII Park patrons in Christchurch a glimpse of the form which has made her No 1 in the world.

Although not achieving a put over 20 metres, Vili was a crowd favourite, with many locals and young athletes flocking to snap photographs with their Olympic hero.

Vili was consistent around the mid-19 metres range throughout her six throws, with the best coming in round four with 19.60m.

"I'm here to have a good throw but I'm also here to compete in our nationals, in support of New Zealand athletics, and to show the public what I do and what I'm all about," Vili said of a somewhat ambassadorial appearance.

Vili, like discus champion Beatrice Faumuina the day before, towered above her domestic competition and admitted it was hard to perform without competition, finishing five metres ahead of the next contestant.

"I was hoping to get over 20 metres but I was pretty consistent over 19 - there's no real competition here to push you and that's hard as well," Vili said. "The cold was no excuse for throwing like s**t, but I was pretty happy to put out title 10 and pretty happy to be here."

It has been a tough couple of weeks for the Olympic and World champion since returning from losing her world indoor title in Qatar to Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk.

"I obviously didn't get the performance I wanted today. The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough coming back from Doha and then having to deal with a family funeral and stuff like that," said Vili.

"All in all, considering the situation, I'm pretty proud. I still came out and managed to get all throws over 19 metres, I mean I can't ask for more than that, except to come out here and compete at nationals - as I know it is very important for New Zealand athletics."

Vili said that she was pleased to get 10 straight titles: "Pretty good given that I'm still only 25. I came and did my job. I'll take a break next week, then I've got three comps overseas, in Shanghai, New York and the Diamond League in May June. Then I am looking forward to the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games in October."

Vili is looking forward to three meets in Taiwan, Shanghai and New York in May/June, before heading to Europe in the lead-up to the World Cup in September and Commonwealth Games in October.

She expects to have only six weeks in New Zealand between now and the New Delhi Games, admitting she loves her time back home.

"The nationals is a great time to catch up with a lot of our athletes and a lot of other people; it's the one chance of the year we get a chance to do that," she said.

But while a current Olympic champion thrilled the crowd by merely appearing, another possible Olympian of the future astonished onlookers in the men's under-19 shot put with perhaps the outstanding performance of the first two days.

Sixteen year-old Aucklander Jacko Gill, putting with a weight above his age class, heaved an astounding 19.92 metres - more than a metre past the New Zealand record and also more than a metre in excess of the world junior qualifying mark.

National decathlon champion Brent Newdick won three titles taking the 110m hurdles, the long jump and the pole vault.

New Zealand records were set by Julia Ratcliffe who improved on her W16 record in the hammer with a throw of 54.97m, and Michael Cochrane who equalled James Mortimer's M19 110m hurdles record of 14.22s.

Nikki Hamblin claimed her first New Zealand title after becoming a New Zealand citizen last year. Hamblin, in her first race this season after being injured, ran away with the 800m in 2m 9.59s.

- Herald on Sunday

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