Even before the five-star finale to his year, Joseph Millar can reflect on a memorable 2017; he just hopes it continues into his first world championship in London starting next weekend.

Consider this:

• In February, the 24-year-old sprinter had a side-by-side moment with Usain Bolt in the Nitro challenge in Melbourne, crossing 0.16s behind the world's finest sprinter in a 150m race. It would be a stretch to say he gave the great Jamaican a fright but he pushed hard and made Bolt aware of his presence.

• Then he won the New Zealand 100m-200m double in Hamilton, setting a national record in the longer of the two distances, 20.37s. That qualified him for the worlds, and next year's Commonwealth Games.


• After that he went across the Tasman later in March and doubled up to win both their titles, but he remains a frustrating 0.07s outside Gus Nketia's 23-year-old 10.11s national mark.

Let's get Bolt out of the way first. Did they exchange pleasantries?

"I stepped out and said 'great race man, awesome'. And he said, like 'yeah, you too, dude. You're really coming'. The fact he knew who I was and putting pressure on where he didn't expect it, was pretty good feeling."

Which brings us neatly to the issue of his choice of athletic pursuit. Why sprint? When African-American athletes are the dominant figures in the two short forms, why not turn his considerable talents to, say, the 400 or 800m? Simple. He loves running fast.

"When I was younger I had two talents: running fast and drawing," Millar said from the New Zealand squad's camp in Cardiff.

"Both are different ways of expressing myself. I tried drawing myself sprinting and express the emotion when I was running really fast. I couldn't quite manage it but I got such a good feeling I thought I'd put my energy that way."

He's heard the jibes down the years - "a lot of people thought I was wasting my time sprinting. We've never had a lot of sprinters, it's not something New Zealand is known for. But if I was going to be competing on the world stage it was going to be doing something I love."

Now he's enjoying the support and encouragement after a cracking seven months has opened eyes to his talents.

Joseph Millar during a training session at the Millennium Institute, Albany. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Joseph Millar during a training session at the Millennium Institute, Albany. Photo / Brett Phibbs

"People have understood how tough it has been and it's finally coming together for me. Friends and family are finally seeing all the hard work I'd put in coming to fruition."

Born in Whakatane, but raised in Papamoa, Millar is clear which of the two sprint disciplines he prefers.

"The 100m is more the glamour event but I love the 200m.

"The feeling of coming off a bend is really cool, that slingshot feeling. In the 100m you can have brute force; in the 200m it's speed, finesse, a lot of counter-intuitive things.

"When you're coming off a bend into the straight, don't try and re-accelerate; try and hold your body still to maintain rather than increase [speed]. A good 200m runner is beautiful to watch."

Speaking of which, Millar speaks with delight about his 200m nationals run, which he calls "a near perfect race. It was a near flawless race technically, executed exactly how I wanted to".

The last New Zealand male sprinter at a world championships was James Dolphin in 2007. Millar sees himself as something of a torchbearer for the quick guys in this part of the world. And there's a certain symmetry to the Dolphin link.

"I remember the day I first met James, when I was a kid. To think now I'm out there doing what he was doing is a pretty cool feeling."

Millar left Auckland and the high performance environment in the middle of last year to return to Tauranga.

"There's a lot of facilities in Auckland but at the time it wasn't right for me.

"It comes down to having certain people, friends and family, that sort of thing [around me]. I had a bit of a plan of what I wanted to do and felt I had to be in Tauranga. I had my training partner, Kodi Harman, there.

The death of his grandmother also enhanced the feeling that "I needed to be back home".

He returned to Auckland earlier this year, his work with coach Paul Gamble is producing impressive results and he's much happier this time round in the big city.

Time matters for Millar. He wants to survive as deep as he can in London but ... "If I weren't to advance but ran a fast time that works for me. Running fast and breaking records is like racing against everyone, ever."

Millar is No35 on rankings this year in the 200m, where Botswana's Isaac Makwala, at 19.77s, has the fastest time for the season; he's No52 in the shorter sprint.

American Christian Coleman (9.82s) is quickest, but all eyes will be on world recordholder Bolt, who ran 9.95s in Monaco at the Diamond League a week ago.

Life in fast lane

• Joseph Millar will be New Zealand's first male sprinter since James Dolphin in 2007 to run at a world championship in London next month.
• He won the 100m and 200m national titles this year, plus the Australian equivalent double, setting a national 200m record.
• Millar received an invitation into the 100m from the International Association of Athletics Federations yesterday , having qualified directly in the 200m.
• New Zealand has 12 athletes competing in the worlds.