Family key to Olympic success
The London Olympic Games is just weeks away, with the opening ceremony on July 27. Kris Dando talks to two-time Olympics’ attendee, Oceania and multiple New Zealand shot put and discus champion Henry Smith about experiencing the Games, what it takes to be
How did you get into athletics?
I started at Mana College when I was 13 and was told ‘‘you should join the local club’’ [Titahi Bay Amateur Athletics Club]. I was a bit sceptical; I was a rugby player after all. But I joined and thoroughly enjoyed myself – I must’ve because I spent the next 25 years competing for them. It’s a sport where you need great support from family and coaches and I’ve been lucky to have that.
At the 1983 South Pacific Games you got Samoa’s first gold medal, in the discus. What was that like?
It was an emotional time. I was born in New Zealand but was very proud to compete for Samoa and to have my family around me when I achieved that was very special. I’ve always had that connection to Samoa. I was New Zealand shot put and discus champion at the time, so there was a bit of expectation.
Attending the LA Olympics the next year must have been crazy.
Samoa had weightlifters and boxers but I was the only one in athletics. It was amazing, to get to an Olympic Games is something you dream about and here I was, standing in Los Angeles at the opening ceremony. It was the fulfilment of the hard work you and your coach put in. I watched Carl Lewis competing and you could just see the focus on what he had to do, it was incredible. He looked normal but when he ran . . .
And you attended the Seoul Olympics four years later (qualifying in the discus)?
I was the flag-bearer, it was a huge honour for me to enter this stadium with 90,000 people cheering. A lot of the other countries are in suits but we had lavalavas. I was very proud but it was also humbling. The Olympic Village was the size of Porirua’s central business district and there were doctors on call and you could get food 24 hours a day – I bought home M&Ms for the kids. I can say I attended two Olympic Games, when all my training took place at Kura St and in my garage, using plates off stoves for weights.
What do you think of Valerie Adams and huge prospect Jacko Gill?
I saw Val Adams competing when she was at school, she was destined to be huge in athletics and I reckon she will get the gold in London. I can see [local talent] Leesa Lealaisalanoa going the same way, if she keeps at it, and that’s why it was so important to get that shot put circle built up at Cannons Creek. She’s humble and works hard and deserves all the accolades. Jacko – what are they feeding that boy? He’s finely tuned, with a lot of power, he goes passive to explosive very quickly and that’s the key.
What are the essentials to becoming a top athlete?
It’s a combination of a lot of things. You have to have the willpower to want to succeed,
‘‘The Olympics were a huge part of my life and I still loving watching the Games. There’s so much drama.’’ early mornings and plenty of training, pushing yourself hard. I’ve always thought the mental side is big – I came up against stronger guys than me but controlling that power and being mentally tough can give you the edge. Good coaching helps, I had John Cook with me and that made a huge difference. And of course family – I was lucky to have such a strong family base get me through, supporting me when I was competing.
Who are our prospects for London?
I think Nick Willis will get a medal, same with Valerie Adams and I can see us getting a heap on the water and [cycling] track.
Have you been involved in athletics much since retirement in 1990?
I actually had my last hurrah at the nationals in 1992 and won gold in both events. John Cook died a few months later and I put my medals in his casket. I help out with the Titahi Bay Club, we’re trying to get an all-weather track moving in Porirua, which would be incredible for local athletes. I’d love to see a McEvedy Shield competition going in the Porirua basin, it would lift the high level we already have. I’ve been to a few Masters’ events over the years and am thinking about doing that again one day.
You were on Porirua City Council from 2007-2010. Will you stand again next year?
Depends on a few things but I really enjoyed my time on the council and am considering it. I like being out and about in the community, trying to make a difference and talking to people.