Athletics: Ryan Ballantyne snapping at heels of Olympians Walsh, Gill

By Grant Chapman

Ryan Ballantyne begins his rotation at the NZ track and field nationals in Hamilton. Photo/Macspeedfoto
Ryan Ballantyne begins his rotation at the NZ track and field nationals in Hamilton. Photo/Macspeedfoto

Once considered one of the ugly ducklings of New Zealand track and field, there has probably never been a more exciting time to be a shot putter hereabouts and Te Awamutu junior Ryan Ballantyne is happy to be riding just under the crest of that wave.

After the worldly feats of Les Mills and Val Young through the 1960s, the discipline experienced nearly three decades where it struggled to find a worthy successor. Courtney Ireland was an oasis in the desert through the early '90s, but could never overhaul Mills' long-standing national record.

Then, along came Val Adams ... and then Jacko Gill and Tom Walsh.

These days, with two Olympic medallists and another finalist in our midst, New Zealand's reputation with the orb is almost second to none.

Ballantyne looms as the next off the production line, taking out the men's U20 event at this year's national track and field championships with a throw of 19.12m.

It was a performance that fell far below his growing expectations.

"I guess it was one of those days at the office when nothing goes to plan," he reflected. "I think the competition itself was pretty flat, but you've got to learn from these comps and you've got to fail before you can succeed."

He has thrown over 20 metres several times in training and his official personal best of 19.54m with the 6kg weight already puts him among the top juniors in the world.

Ballantyne threw 21.66m with a 5kg implement to win last year's national schools title and his 16.37m with the senior 7.26kg shot ranks him 17th on the NZ all-time rankings, equal with Jacko's father, Walter Gill.

But at 18, he has another full season in junior ranks and perhaps another 18 years to realise his long-term potential where athletes can often maintain their powers well past 30.

To help that process along, Ballantyne, now out of St Paul's Collegiate, has moved to Christchurch to work as a builder, and progress his development alongside Walsh and coach Dale Stephenson, an Australian shot putter at the 2012 London Olympics.

"It has been a lot different adapting to it, but it's been awesome," he said. "Training with an Olympic medallist has been a privilege and I'm learning every day.

"With Tom, Jacko and even Val, the sport is really growing, and it's exciting to be amongst it. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do, but I wanted to pursue the sport and took the risk.

"A lot of people say, 'why don't we go overseas and throw at a big university', but when you've got three world-class throwers right here, you can't look past that. When they're willing to do as much as they are for the sport, you can't possibly turn that down."

Walking in the foot-steps of Walsh and Gill makes setting national records a particular challenge, but Balantyne has embraced that with the right attitude.

"It sets the bar a lot higher. When you're looking at 18-19m throws, that's not a far distance, when you're comparing yourself to them, but you want to compare yourself with the best in the world, not just New Zealand.

"It's awesome to have that and other throwers should be thinking the same."

Nipping on the heels of Ballantyne is Hawke's Bay putter Nick Palmer, who has also moved south to take advantage of this high-performance environment. The serious task of achieving world class is alleviated by good-natured ribbing and the odd wager, mainly involving facial folicles.

If Palmer can throw his 5kg/U18 ball further than Ballantyne's winning junior distance tomorrow, the loser faces 12 months of growing his hair out. Palmer has a 19.01m personal best with the lighter shot.

NZHerald.co.nz is live-streaming action from the NZ track and field championships from Hamilton, Saturday and Sunday.

NZ Track & Field Championships
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton
Saturday, March 18
Men U20

Shot Put: Ryan Ballantyne 19.12m (Waikato BOP) 1, Nick Palmer (Hawkes Bay Gisborne) 17.82m 2, Raiarii Thompson (Tahiti) 17.16m 3.

Men U18

Hammer: Anthony Barmes (Auckland) 54.78m 1, Jordyn Hetaraka (Northland) 49.44m 2, Caleb Moore (Waikato BOP) 48.73m 3.

High Jump: Thomas Moloney (Auckland) 1.91m 1, Gerard Hickey (Wellington) 1.87m 2, Daniel Trenberth (Canterbury) 1.83m 3.

Women U18
Long Jump: Tegan Duffy (Canterbury) 5.71m 1, Kayla Goodwin (Waikato BOP) 5.65m 2, Genna Maples (Manawatu Wanganui) 5.54m 3.

- NZ Herald

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