Jacko Gill, New Zealand's first male World Junior gold medallist (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Auckland, New Zealand

In final year as a junior, Gill already has his eye on senior success

It’s really no surprise, given his family genes, that Jacko Gill is good – very good – at shot putting.

His parents, Nerida and Walter, won New Zealand championship titles back in their day, and his elder sister Ayla is a 61-metre hammer thrower.

That said, Gill is not your typical gifted 17-year-old, who has merely exploited his heritage and gone through expensive sports academies. No, Gill says he had a keen interest in the shot from an early age. “Since about 10 years old I've decided to write all of my lifting programs and schedules for my training. I didn't really fit in well at gyms, so I decided to do all weights in our garage at home.

“I've always been passionate about writing programs, and have never had someone influence my training methods, and how much work I put myself through. I find if you create something yourself, you are more passionate about your training, and the will to succeed is higher.”

And succeeding is what Gill does best. Few athletes in history have dominated their age group in the way that Gill has in the Shot. He first came to prominence in late 2009 when he set world age-14 bests with the 5kg Shot (20.42m) and 6kg Shot (17.41m).

Record-breaking rampage

In the twelve months that followed, his progression rocketed and he made his first appearance at a global championships. Despite being the youngest by quite some margin in the Shot final at the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships, Gill smashed his PB with the 6kg implement by more than 80cm to win gold with 20.76m, breaking his own world age-15 best in the process.

The following month he set a PB of 22.60m with the 5kg Shot at the Youth Olympic Games, but he was surprisingly beaten by Poland’s Krzysztof Brzozowski who added more than a metre to his pre-competition PB, breaking the World youth record in the process with 23.23m.

To date, that remains Gill’s last defeat in the Shot. Brzozoski’s World youth record lasted just a few months too, as later that year Gill smashed it with a 23.86m throw. He extended it again in 2011 on two occasions; first at the IAAF World Youth Championships with 24.35m – winning with a staggering margin of exactly four metres – then later in the year in New Zealand with 24.45m.

Including ancillary marks, Gill owns the 11 best throws in history with the 5kg Shot. He also broke records with the other weights, setting a World youth record of 22.31m with the 6kg Shot and 20.38m with the senior implement – a whopping 1.65m farther than the next-best youth athlete in history, Germany’s Karsten Stolz. His 20.38m also broke the senior New Zealand record and the world age-16 best.

Despite picking up injuries in 2012, he came within one centimetre of his PB with the 6kg Shot with 22.30m and went on to successfully defend his World junior title in Barcelona with a championship record of 22.20m.

Dog Earl is best friend and training partner

Gill, who names Sweden’s former Discus World record-holder Ricky Bruch as one of his athletics heroes, also admits: “I love dogs, and I own a dog named Earl, who comes to every training session with me, and I'll spend all day with him too. When I'm older I hope to own a farm and breed dogs.

“I enjoy weight-lifting, power-lifting mainly, so will lift for around four hours a day, and throw only a couple of times per week. Running would be with Earl, just small jogs, nothing over 2km. My main passion would definitely be weight-lifting though, especially bench press. I like the challenge of trying to improve, and in weight-lifting you either make the lift or you don't; there are no excuses.”

The Gills are ever positive about their son. “At first glance he’s a reasonable example of a typical teenager – he likes music and Facebook – but that opinion vanishes quickly within hours of meeting him. There’s no drinking or drugs, and friends are left in no doubt it’s time to go when training approaches,” says Nerida, and echoed by Walter.

“Mostly he remains focused on his goals with a steely desire. Basically everything is about his sport, or it must in some way lead to his goal, otherwise his interest is minimal.”

Gill’s mother gets extra credit. “I'm lucky to have parents so passionate about sport,” says Gill. “Mum’s the one who comes to every training session, and has thrown the shot put back for me every single throw I’ve done since 12 years old.”

Remaining grounded despite huge success

Although coached by Didier Poppé during the years of his World Youth and World Junior Championships campaigns, more recently he has opted to go with former New Zealand shot champion Courtney Ireland.

Gill’s dominance at major meetings is on-going evidence of his determination to follow through with what he reckons to be the methods that will bring him even greater success in the future.

When he has more years within the highest echelons of his sport behind him, he will undoubtedly cope with all of the hype that surrounds his exploits. “Jacko is still Jacko,” comments his father, Walter. “Not one ounce of success or achievement has gone to his head; he does not expect special treatment from his community.

“He often struggles with media attention, particularly prior to a major competition. He does not seek publicity, and if it is unavoidable he prefers it to take place at his training or at home where he is comfortable, saying ‘I do not do it for fame or TV; I just enjoy the challenge and competing’”.

Knowledge is power

Another observation from his parents is that Gill is a real student of the sport. “When it comes to throwing and getting strong, his knowledge of how to succeed exceeds those who have coached him. He is very intelligent at his chosen sport, and this has been brought about by intense enthusiasm and an interest in what he does. I have never seen him overawed by older or larger people, and things that do not go well do not hold him back. He has the ability to refocus immediately and never looks back.”

“I only compete against myself, and concentrate on what I can throw," adds Gill. "If someone beats me and I throw further than I ever have before, and know I have thrown the best I can, then  I wouldn't be disappointed. It's about pushing yourself and doing things you didn't think you could do!”

Having garnered almost every honour as an age-group athlete between the years 2010-2012, he now stands on the bottom rung of the global success ladder. The only notable omission from his outstanding CV is the World junior record with the 6kg Shot, currently held by David Storl with 22.73m. But Gill still has time on his side as he will be a junior through to the end of this year.

Since last summer though, Gill has already had his fair share of minor set-backs. After throwing 20.05m with the senior Shot in November, he picked up an ankle injury in his following competition. Earlier this year he was attacked by a dog and was bitten on the face, needing 20 stitches. Last weekend he won the New Zealand junior title but, still feeling the effects of the ankle injury, was someway shy of his best with 20.53m.

Currently in Sweden for an intense training camp to prepare for the summer, Gill’s first major challenge in the senior ranks is qualifying for the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, then doing well at the 2014 Commonwealth Games – both stepping-stones that may contribute towards his record-breaking exploits and enable him to succeed at the senior level.

Progression and honours won
1523.86m20.76m18.57m2010 World junior champion
1624.45m22.31m20.38m2011 World youth champion
17  22.30m20.05m2012 World junior champion

Tony Hunt for the IAAF