Life still moves at smart pace for 'Golden Girl'

HAPPY FAMILY: Toni Hodgkinson with her daughters, from left, Riley and Camryn.
HAPPY FAMILY: Toni Hodgkinson with her daughters, from left, Riley and Camryn.

Toni Hodgkinson runs most days. You imagine at age 42 she still glides over the ground, making light work of what most of us find hard.

In her heyday she was the "Golden Girl from Golden Bay" but now mucks in at the local junior athletics club and is happy to be one of the crowd.

Hodgkinson lives in Motueka, where she can raise her girls Camryn, 12, and Riley, 9, in paradise and keep an eye on the family's business interests in ITM stores in the upper South Island.

LEADING THE WAY: Toni Hodgkinson heads the field in  a heat of the 1500m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
LEADING THE WAY: Toni Hodgkinson heads the field in a heat of the 1500m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The wider family owns five stores between Greymouth and Havelock and Hodgkinson has been known to sell the odd hammer or drill.

But that is not why she is semi-famous.

She went to two Olympics and two Commonwealth Games. She never got on the medal dais but was hard to beat and good to watch over 800m and 1500m.

To this day, she still holds the national 800m record at 1min 58.25sec, set in 1996.

Asked if she still covers the ground well, Hodgkinson says, "Other people say that, but I feel slower."

Besides running for fitness, she does weights three times a week, plays competitive netball as a goal keep or goal defence and has just bought a bike to accompany her husband Alistair Smart on rides.

"Staying fit is part of my life really," she says.

"When I was at school, I loved netball. When I moved back here I started playing again. I love it. I snapped my ACL (knee) in netball nine years ago so I had to come back from that.

"That was frustrating given I didn't leave athletics with any major injuries."

Her daughters, who attend St Peter Chanel Primary School (roll 60 students), are easing into her footsteps.

"They enjoy it. They are more sprinters and jumpers. They are not interested in distance running."

It is Commonwealth Games year and Hodgkinson says she still keeps an eye on the athletics scene. Promising 800m runner Angie Smit was in Nelson recently and Hodgkinson initiated a hook-up over coffee.

If anyone is to break her 18 year-old record it will be Smit.

"When I broke it, it had been around for a long time before that," Hodgkinson said.

"John Davies (former coach) used to say a lot of people can get under 2mins, and can run 1min 59sec, but a lot less get into 1min 58sec and it is a low 1min 58sec."

Hodgkinson pauses when asked if she has any "what if's" about her running career, which is headlined by an eighth placing in the final of the 800m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"At times you look back and think you could've made some better tactical decisions in races."

In particular she looks at the 800m final at the 1997 world championships in Paris where she finished fifth.

"That was a race if I was ever to look back and think how would I have done that different.

"I was very much after a medal in that race. I was in very good form. I went far too early. I was impatient and ended up finishing fifth. I would run that one different.

"We had Maria Mutola in the race and I got focused on going to the lead too early and racing Maria and didn't leave anything for the end."

Like everyone, there have been ups and downs since she retired and moved from Auckland to Motueka.

The death of Davies in 2003 was greeted with much sadness in the running community and by no-one more so than Hodgkinson, who not only regarded him as a fine coach but as a family friend.

On a lighter note Hodgkinson raised a few eyebrows when she competed for the Motueka Marvels in TV's Top Town series in 2009. Once again she made a semifinal.

Hodgkinson is happy with her career and happy with her life.

Fairfax Media