Fancy watching flaming hammer throws plop into the Waikato River, javelin chucked down Queen St or long jumping at Piha Beach?

Athletics New Zealand has an open mind to conjuring up events beyond traditional track and field meets.

Buoyed by the success of urban shot put and pole vault competitions over recent summers, the sport's governing body wants to continue in a similar vein.

The recipe has been relatively simple.


Take a New Zealand athletics champion; lure a few of their key international competitors; find sponsors to fund the hosting costs; sprinkle with advertising; and pop into an urban cauldron with plenty of foot traffic.

The objective? Expose a novice audience to world-class sport, in the hope it will encourage the next generation of children to participate.

Examples this summer included a shot put extravaganza at Timaru's Caroline Bay sound shell where home town world champion Tom Walsh defeated a host of international competitors.

Ditto "The Vertical Pursuit", a pole vault event on Auckland's Federal St in which spectators surrounded the runway to witness Eliza McCartney and her rivals levitate in the shadow of the Sky Tower.

McCartney, the 21-year-old Rio Olympic bronze medallist, said taking field events into the community changes a competition's atmosphere.

"It's great to have a crowd so close, because it brings energy and adrenaline. Everyone feeds off each other.

"Often when watching athletics on TV you only get a glimpse of field events because they mainly focus on races. Even in a stadium you can be quite a way from the crowd."

Athletics New Zealand events manager Gareth Archer said planning for such spectacles is paying off. Athletes and coaches are involved in the process as much as possible, so they can sell the concepts to competitors and sponsors.


"We looked at the great crowds they used to get in the sport's hey-day [through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s], but the entertainment market has changed since then. There are more ways to fill your weekend. We still want to be relevant in that market, so how do we do it?

"Gatetakings are never a factor. They're a nice-to-have. We rely on commercial partners and goodwill to make things work.

"Since Rio in particular, where we had such success [with four medals at a Games for the second time after 1964] there's more interest in the commercial space with feel-good stories people want to associate with."

Archer said it helped that Walsh and McCartney were prepared to go out and chat to sponsors.

"For instance, Tom took his medal around Timaru and, by the end of the day, we had enough money in the kitty to make the whole thing work.

"It was a similar prospect with the Vertical Pursuit where Eliza and her coach Jeremy [McColl] were involved from the outset to make it easier to piece the equation together."

McCartney stressed the importance of sponsorship, and the fact athletes are competing for the wider entertainment dollar.

"That's just the way sport is in this day and age. It's something you've got to deal with and get used to as an athlete in New Zealand because that's how most of us earn income.

"It's funny, in the last decade or so sport has changed in New Zealand where you can make a living from the sponsorship, and you are treated as a brand, almost. I think that's just part of it now. You've got to play the game if you want to keep going.

"I did take a while to understand that. It boils down to us being entertainers; people pay to watch us. You have to be aware of that side of things, but it's not the [main] reason we do it."

Getting top athletes to New Zealand can be a struggle, but organising extra-curricular activities helps, like deer hunting for Walsh's competitors last year and paragliding for McCartney's rivals in March.

"We've probably got a two-to-three week summer window to bring athletes down," Archer said.

"We can't pay big bucks like the Europeans to attract them, but they can experience some 'real' New Zealand."

Archer said the governing body are always open to ideas.

"You're probably not going to do a javelin competition downtown, but someone told me about a flaming hammer they have in Europe where they douse it in kerosene, light it, and throw it into a river. The Waikato might be wide enough. Maybe we'll talk to someone down there…

"Tom and the other shot putters also had a proposition after seeing the latest Air New Zealand safety video when they flew up from Christchurch.

"Tom said: 'Do you think we could organise a shot put competition in Antarctica?'

"One of the American boys then reckoned he could get the US military to sort the flights so I said 'if you can do that, we're on, otherwise maybe we could start in Stewart Island and work our way down from there."