A whispering campaign, a perception of unfair and even provocative judging and an overall feeling he was being obstructed rather than encouraged - Jacko Gill's shock withdrawal from the London Olympics came after months of frustration and discontent.

Athletics New Zealand's qualification "blunder" that led Gill to focus solely on the world junior championships this year was the last straw. Track and field sources in this country have made it clear that there was more to 17-year-old shot put sensation Gill's decision not to go to the Olympics - and was not, as some have assumed, a young sportsman throwing his toys out of the cot.

At the heart of the Gill saga is said to be Athletics NZ's inability to make Gill and his family feel valued enough. It should be stressed that none of the information in this article came from the Gill family, who would not comment. But Herald on Sunday inquiries have shown that Gill's withdrawal has come after a series of incidents - none major individually but, when taken collectively, added up to the family feeling they were encountering a lack of support, a "tall poppy" reaction from some or, worse, that blocks were being put in Gill's way.

Sources in the sport and close to the family have said: There was a whispering campaign against Gill, now stilled.


Some local track and field authorities said he was putting the shot illegally; throwing it instead of putting it. He has never been called for illegal technique in international meets and there has been no hint from any other quarter that anything was wrong with Gill's action. Gill was called for foul throws when competing locally; the young thrower considered them vindictive and unsettling.

Gill and the family were put out when a strange Athletics NZ rule effectively barred Gill from appearing in his own national championships last month. The rule states that an athlete must be 19 or over to take part in the nationals. In the end, Gill was granted dispensation and did compete.

Athletics NZ considered the fuss to be a storm in a teacup - but it does seem an unnecessary hurdle for any young athlete to have to clear.

The qualification saga - where Gill felt he had thrown far enough to be named in the Olympic team but was omitted for the time being because he had recorded only the Olympic B standard (20.30m) - also came about because of the presence of another promising shot putter, Tom Walsh.

As published in the Herald on Sunday late last year, Walsh is also aiming for London and has thrown 18.83m with the senior shot, well behind Gill but, in theory at least, with a slim chance of making the qualification standard.

However, only one competitor can be taken to the Olympics if a B standard is attained so Athletics NZ decided they had to give Walsh time to qualify as well.

One source said: "I guess you can say that Athletics NZ are applying the letter of the law but they have clearly made Jacko and his family feel they have not done enough. Surely what they had to do was make it known to Jacko that he'd be going to London regardless."

Former New Zealand champion and four-time Olympian Sir Les Mills has previously said Gill "could be to New Zealand what Peter Snell was in the early 1960s".

"He is explosive, is extremely well co-ordinated, has excellent technique, and an amazing attitude for someone so young. All going well, this should translate into Jacko becoming the world's greatest shot putter - barring accidents and other possible unforeseen circumstances, of course - and the world record and an Olympic gold medal or two, after London 2012, should not be beyond him."

Mills said he knows nothing of the incidents said to have angered the Gills but added: "What is needed here is unconditional support for an athlete like this. They have to feel they are being supported. I don't know anything about what is being alleged but I could definitely accept those sort of things might have happened. This sort of thing has been going on in this sport for a long time now.

"They seem to lurch from one disaster to another, even after they have been lucky enough to have athletes like Valerie Adams, Nick Willis and Kim Smith - all athletes they have not had a hand in developing at all. Now you get Jacko Gill coming along - whom they also have not developed - and now this happens. And they claim this to be a new era of New Zealand athletics ... I just see them as almost a lost cause."

Perhaps the strangest part of this story is the foul throws when an upset Gill confronted judges whom he felt were deliberately calling foul throws on him at Christchurch in February. Gill had interrupted his training to go to Christchurch to support the earthquake appeal along with Valerie Adams. In the warm-up, Gill broke the world junior shot put record, throwing over 23m.

"His head was right, he was fizzing and ready to go big," said one source. "He was in front of 1500 people and what happens? He gets fouled three times out of four with the judges claiming he was touching the top of the steel rim at the back of the shot put circle - which is a foul throw, only Jacko knew he hadn't touched the rim; he felt the judges were gunning for him, looking to find something wrong."

Some of those involved in the whispering campaign against him were in attendance that day, which was why Gill felt he was coming in for 'special treatment'.

Athletics NZ CEO Scott Newman said yesterday that they had a good relationship with Jacko and his family "at least as good as with any other athlete and family".

He said he was not at Christchurch but had heard that Gill had been upset. The rule about not competing at the nationals was "not aimed at Jacko, nor did it come from the board or any staff member of Athletics NZ - it came from the clubs themselves."

Newman said he had heard Gill had been fouled at a meeting in Australia a couple of years ago but did not think there was any "conspiracy".

"We have been doing everything in our power to support Jacko - why would we do anything else? Sure, we could have done a couple of things better over the qualification issue but we have already acknowledged that. If anyone is suggesting, by linking these elements together, that there is a conspiracy, that is absolute twaddle."