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

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE -

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.

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Henry Smith:

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