Javelin ace Stuart Farquhar has retired following his fourth Olympic appearance in Rio. Steve Landells chats to the Hamilton-based former Commonwealth Games silver medallist about his lengthy and successful career in the sport.
There are many reasons to cherish the memory of recently retired javelin thrower Stuart Farquhar. Yet perhaps his greatest legacy is his indefatigable spirit which fuelled an 18-year international career and domestically included an eye-popping 16 national titles.
Born on a farm in Te Aroha, Stuart was first introduced to the javelin during his time as a boarder at St Peters College in Cambridge. In this first ever competition he hurled the spear a school record 39m and then the following year 58m to instantly discover a gift for throwing.
He made remarkably quick strides. Aged just 15 he qualified to compete at the 1998 World Junior Championships in Annecy, France and placed a more than respectable 15th facing athletes up to four years older.
"Knowing that I had competed against the best junior athletes in the world, made me realise I had some sort of talent which could evolve into a lot more," he explains of his memories of Annecy. "That was the time when I first realised I could be something in javelin."
A talented all-rounder who played in age-group teams for Northern Districts he could have pursued a career in cricket but after competing at the 2000 World Junior Championships in Santiago, Chile he fully committed to javelin in pursuit of his goal of featuring at an Olympic Games.
With his lifelong coach Debbie Strange by his side, the pair plotted a route to the 2004 Athens Olympics Games and Stuart is wholesome in his praise for the woman who guided him for more than 20 years.
"She's been a huge influence," he admits. "She grew her knowledge of javelin with me from a young age and we both piggy-backed off each other to extend our knowledge. She made a huge commitment to support me. She wouldn't miss a training session and she always had faith in what I could do."
Making the Olympic Games was huge. However, he felt "overwhelmed" competing at his first major global senior championship. He placed 25th out of 33 finalists, but was far from discouraged.
"It was massive introduction to throwing against the best in the world," he says. "But because I only threw averagely, it gave me a lot of hope and it motivated me to eclipse that performance at future Olympics."
With typical understated Kiwi determination, Stuart worked hard at his craft and was rewarded in 2006 by breaching the 80m barrier for the first time in his career with an 81.70m effort at the Australian Championships in Sydney.
However, disappointment was to follow the following month when he had to settle for seventh with a best of 77.40m at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
Yet Stuart and his coach continued to make adjustments and each two-year cycle seemed to bring about significant improvement. In 2007 he made his first of five consecutive World Championship appearances in Osaka.
Then in 2008 he qualified for his second Olympic team in Beijing. Having thrown a PB of 83.23m in Canberra earlier that year, hopes were high the Kiwi could advance to the final. However, a series of adductor strains impacted upon his preparation and competing in a qualification pool played out in torrential rain he had to settle for 20th with a best of 76.14m.
After struggling with a number of injury niggles leading into major championships post the Beijing Olympics he and is coach sought to bring about a change to his training strategy. He began to embraced more gymnastic work to improve his core stability but also looked outwards to the finest international throwers. Good pals with two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen, he spent several highly valued training stints in South Africa with the Norwegian throwing great.
"I followed his training, tried to mirror him and out of that developed a training regime which suited me," he adds of the experience.
It worked. In 2010 he hurled the spear to a lifetime best of 85.35m at his home track at Porritt Stadium in Hamilton. Later that year despite being hampered by "a massive heel bruise" he took the Commonwealth Games silver medal in New Delhi with a 78.15m effort. It was a huge moment in his career.
"I was not in the best shape, but it was great to finally win that first significant medal," he explains.
In 2011 the Kiwi made his first World Championship final place 11th in Daegu and the following year went on to enjoy the finest season of his career. In April he launched the spear out to a massive new PB of 86.31m in Hiroshima, Japan. Then at the London Olympics he qualified for the final automatically with the sixth best throw of 82.32m to hint at his medal potential. However, in the final, a best effort of 80.22m in round three was only good enough for ninth and he just missed out on the right to throw three further throws.
Earlier this year the original silver medallist in London - Oleksandr Pyatnytska of Ukraine was retrospectively given a drug suspension and Stuart was upgraded to eighth. However, wrongly denied those three extra throws in London is a source of regret.
"It could have changed the whole dynamic of the competition," he says of the three extra throws he deserved. "At that stage of my career, I was in the best form of my life, I was throwing well over 83m in training and as the competition was only won with a best of 84.58m, anything could have happened."
At the 2013 World Championships in Moscow the Kiwi placed a respectable ninth, although a combination of Achilles and shoulder injuries hampered his preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where he wound up fifth.
Working in more recent times with leading Kiwi physiologist Angus Ross to improve his power he approached the 2015 World Championships in Beijing in "the form of my life" but a fracture to the bone spur about a week before the competition in the Bird's Nest Stadium left him badly compromised and he placed a frustrating 23rd.
Opting to make the Rio campaign his last before retirement, once more his body let him down as an ankle injury picked up in April left him about "a month short" of prime fitness and he placed 29th in qualification with 77.32m.
It was a sad note on which to draw an end to his javelin career but he looks back with pride on an athletics journey which far exceeded his expectations.
"I'm very proud to have maintained that level of international competition year on year from 2004," he adds. "I'm very pleased I gave myself that chance to fighting at major championships every year and to make four Olympic plus a top eight position in London was very special as well."
He hopes in retirement to spend more time with his wife, Leone, and three children, Tyler, 9, Mason, 5 and Kirra, 2, and he is looking forward to developing and advancing his career as a web developer.
He also walks away from the javelin with the event in reasonable shape in New Zealand. He is confident his former training partner, Ben Langton-Burnell, can make a breakthrough into international class by smashing through the 80m barrier soon and he is optimistic 20-year-old Alex Wood, the national silver medallist, can push beyond the 70m mark this next season.
Although he is looking forward to giving his body "a long rest" in retirement he fully intends to remain wedded to the sport in some capacity and plans to be on the scene at various meets this season.
Yet just why has the quietly-spoken man from the Waikato remained so passionate about the javelin for so long?
"It is the challenge of competing in such a simplistic event," he says. "You put all this hard effort in and you can intrinsically feel the rewards. It always been the challenge and that has been the motivation."