Losing touch with single-discipline athletes, Aaron Booth committed to decathlon. He speaks to Christopher Reive about how the decision has led him on the road that, hopefully, leads to the Olympic Games.
Aaron Booth knew athletics was his future.
From the age of three, he had been around the sport, competing in the various disciplines. But as he got older, it became more apparent that the path of a single-discipline athlete wasn't one he would follow.
So instead of being great at one discipline, he committed to being good at 10.
"I went through stages when I was growing up where I was no longer competitive throwing, then no longer competitive running and then I wasn't really competitive in anything," Booth said.
"Finally, once puberty decided to hit, I started to grow and catch up to the other guys who developed quicker than me. I slowly started getting more competitive again, but I've never been super competitive in one event.
"Even now, I'm not one of the decathletes who's crazy fast or can long jump really far or is a really big guy who can do really well at all three throws. I'm more just consistent and even across everything, so I knew if I wanted to try to make it in athletics, then an individual event wasn't going to be how I'd do it."
Booth's decision to pursue a career in decathlon stemmed from working with 1966 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Roy Williams. Booth began working with the 11-time New Zealand decathlon champion at the age of eight. It was around that time he started to take up athletics competitively, with some medals at the Auckland Championships. But as he fell further out of touch with the single-discipline athletes, turning to decathlon proved defining.
In 2017, he won a bronze medal at the World University Games. It was New Zealand's only medal in the competition, and earned him a scholarship offer to Kansas State University. For the boy from Henderson, the decision to accept the scholarship and move to the middle of the United States wasn't one he took lightly.
"It was a big adjustment going there," he admits. "Living literally in the middle of America, there's no sea, new coach, new friends — I'd be lying if I said it was an easy transition.
"It was tough and there were times I wanted to come home. Even this past year, there have been times when I've wanted to come home. But I just keep reminding myself I'm doing it for a reason."
After two years competing at collegiate level, Booth returned to the World University Games this month and claimed gold with 7827 points.
His medal was one of two collected by New Zealand at the event, with the women's 4x100m relay team of Olivia Eaton, Zoe Hobbs, Natasha Eady, Georgia Hulls, Brooke Somerfield and Briana Stephenson claiming a bronze medal and posting a new New Zealand record in the process.
Booth topped the competition thanks to victories in the final two events — the javelin and 1500m.
"Compared to other decathletes, the last two events are some of my stronger ones, which is nice because when you go up against some of the bigger guys, you know they're really dreading the 1500m, but for a smaller guy like me, I don't mind it."
With his sights set on competing at the Olympics, Booth has had the added benefit of working with Kiwi athletics coach Matt Dallow, who is based in Atlanta with his wife, Chelsea Lane, who works for the Atlanta Hawks NBA team. Being able to tap into them on a regular basis has helped Booth.
The drive to get to the Olympics burns bright for Booth, but with the qualification standards making things tough for him to make the grade for Tokyo next year, Paris or Los Angeles are targets.
"Matt always tries to reassure me that my best Olympics will probably be 2024, or even 2028, which seems a long way away, but the Olympics are definitely what I'm aiming to get to."
For the Tokyo Olympics, half the field qualifies by achieving the Olympic standard of 8350 points in the period from May 1, 2019 to June 29, 2020. The rest qualify by world ranking. After winning the World University Games, Booth sits No65 in the world rankings with 1131 points. The leader, Frenchman Kevin Mayer, has 1399 points.
"My competitions are pretty fixed — I don't really get too much lenience on where I can go, and the competitions we do in the US aren't really ranked highly.
"I'm not sure why but the IAAF don't give those competitions high bonus points, so it makes that ranking thing a little bit harder for me.
"If I get to Tokyo, that'll be awesome, but if I don't, then I'll just keep plugging away and try get to the next one."