College Sport: More than one string to teen's bow

By Terry Maddaford

Grammar student Sam Ulufonua is as adept at the piano as the discus and shot.

Sam Ulufoua has already qualified for next year's IAAF World Championships in the discus. Photo/ Greg Bowker
Sam Ulufoua has already qualified for next year's IAAF World Championships in the discus. Photo/ Greg Bowker

At 120kg and 1.98m Sam Ulufonua gives new meaning to the term "gentle giant" but put the Auckland Grammar 16-year-old into a discus or shot put circle and his traits become obvious.

But, there is another side to someone who is fast becoming a super athlete. Having already shunned overtures to get him into rugby, Ulufonua is as adept at the piano as he is with a shot or discus in his hand.

The church plays a huge part in Ulufonua family life with Sam an outstanding pianist who, his mother insists, must attend church where he plays the piano, before he goes off to train or compete with his family, more often than not, in tow.

The latest star from the Sir John Walker Find Your Field of Dreams Throw for Gold initiative, Ulufonua has only been throwing for two years.

"Two years ago Sam didn't know what a discus was," said Throw for Gold head coach Nigel Edwards. "Now, he has already qualified for next year's IAAF World Championships in the discus and will, I'm sure, also make it in the shot.

"He is an outstanding talent. He is not only a phenomenal athlete but is an exceptional young man. He is the whole package."

Ulufonua, who got into Auckland Grammar through the ballot system for out of zone pupils, had no sporting background.

"I had nothing to do with sport until this came along," said Ulufonua the day before he went out and threw a personal best with the shot of 17.38m - just .32m shy of that standard for the youth championships. "I picked it up quite quickly."

That's an understatement for the South Auckland boy who was quickly introduced to the Edwards "stable" where he watched and admired Siositina (Tina) Hakeai, the AGGS student who finished fourth at the World Under-20 Junior Championships in Barcelona this year.

With his height and athleticism surely the basketball scouts must have come sniffing.

"Yes, they have. I have always been big for my age which sometimes can be a bit embarrassing as my parents are quite short but I can't aim so basketball is not for me."

Neither is rugby despite efforts by the Auckland Union to lure him into their under-18 representative squad. For now Ulufonua, who says he sets himself little goals of trying to improve by "little distances" every time he steps into the circle, has his sights set on next month's secondary schools championships in Dunedin where he will go head-to-head with Francis Douglas Memorial College's Kyle Van der Merwe in one of the most keenly-anticipated confrontations at the championships.

"I have worked with some very talented athletes," said Edwards. "But Sam is outstanding both as a person and an athlete. In many ways he is just like Beatrice Faumuina who was very relaxed and had a great attention to detail.

"He threw 58.82m in training on Sunday. That was 10m further than he had thrown before. If he gets to 60m at the World Youth Championships he will win a medal."

Those championships are in the Ukraine which in itself is a daunting prospect for an Otahuhu boy who has never been further than the Pacific Islands. But Edwards, and others, are convinced he will simply take that in his stride. A pretty big one at that.

- NZ Herald

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