Bruce Solomon turned 55 last December and he hopes his youth will be an advantage when he makes his first foray into international athletics competition late next week.

South African born and raised but now resident of Papamoa, Solomon is off to the World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga on Spain's Costa del Sol to compete among a 41-strong field in the men's 55 to 59 years decathlon.

"The younger you are in your division, the better your chances," he says.

He thinks that on current personal bests - his is 5872 points – he'd rank about 15th in the field.


"But my goal at these championships is to crack 6000 points and make the top eight," he says.

The top ranked decathlete in his age group will be 1984 Olympian Angel Diaz of Guatemala, who set the world record last year at 8031 points.

Solomon was an athlete in his youth. Till the age of 25 he competed regularly as a sprinter in South Africa and was a provincial representative from his home town of East London. But the demands of a job overtook his sport.

Arriving in New Zealand a decade ago, he decided it was time to get active again and took up track and field once more, joining the Tauranga Ramblers in the 2011-12 season.

Bruce Solomon takes a jump. Photo / John Borren
Bruce Solomon takes a jump. Photo / John Borren

Actually, it's more accurate to say he took up sprinting again and started competing in Masters events. But he found that by taking part in only a few races, he had lots of spare time to while away at the meets. The way to fill in that time, he found, was do a few field events too.

One thing led to another and his versatility across the various athletic disciplines brought him to the 10-event decathlon.

He's candid about where his strength and weaknesses across the two days of competition are.

"I'll get good points in the 100 metres and the 400 metres. I'll be okay in the long jump and throws. But the pole vault is a problem."

The issue in that discipline is the lack of a training facility in Tauranga. He can only practice pole vault when he's competing at a meet in Auckland and can use the runway and landing pad at the AUT Millenium stadium in Auckland.

That weakness was evident when he set the New Zealand M55-59 decathlon record at the Oceania Championships in Dunedin in January.

He scored 830 points for a 12.79 seconds 100 metres. There were a further 741 points for an 11.18 metre shot put and 689 points after a 62.48 second 400 metres.

On the second day Solomon scored more than 500 points in the 100 metres hurdles, the discus, javelin and 1500 metres. But his 2.10 metre pole vault was worth just 300 points.

He cheerfully confesses to being self-coached, but says the multi-event community is tight-knit and very supportive.

"I find I pick up valuable information and training tips at actual events. We're always looking to help each other."

On the local front he feels privileged to have a fellow competitor, rival and friend in Stephen Te Whaiti, the Head of Secondary at Bethlehem College.

"He's six months younger than me. So last season we competed in different divisions. He was in the M50. This season he's moved up a year so we'll be head to head."

Bruce Solomon now works in education too. He and wife Thurla run a pre and after school care programme called Playtime, which operates at two primary schools, and the after school Sportstime which offers an introduction to sport at seven primary schools in the Greater Tauranga area.

He's never been to Spain before and never competed at a World Masters until now. But he's enthusiastic about the high quality of his opposition.

"Having the World Masters in Europe is great because it's not far to travel for most of the athletes."

Masters athletics starts at the age of 35.

"Most of the world's best from that age will be there."

Sally Gibbs is undecided about which events to race

Sally Gibbs won two gold and three silver medals in the W50 division at the 2016 World Masters Athletics championships in Perth.

But the Katikati 55-year-old won't be as prolific this time in Malaga because she's running only three events.

That's not necessarily her choice. She'll definitely start in the 5000 metres and the 10km road race.

There's no 10,000 metre track race this time. That's an event in which she won gold two years ago.

Then more annoyingly, the half marathon, in which she also won gold in Perth, and the 1500 metres final, where she won silver in 2016, are not just on the same day but start only an hour 45 minutes apart on the final morning of the championships.

Even for somebody who can run a half marathon in 1 hour 22 minutes – as she did in Perth – the turnaround is just impossible.

"To be honest I haven't decided which of those two I'll do yet," she says. "I enjoy them both."

For somebody who took up running only 10 years ago, Gibbs has had an extraordinary amount of success.

These will be her fifth World Masters Athletics championships. She's been a medallist in her age group every time before.

In Malaga, as a first timer in the W55 division, more success is likely.

Her husband Brendan, recovering from a knee replacement, will be in the stands supporting her.