Nelson crucible for top triathletes

BALANCING ACT: Campbell Hanson starts the bike section in last year’s world championship qualifying race in Auckland.
BALANCING ACT: Campbell Hanson starts the bike section in last year’s world championship qualifying race in Auckland.

Triathlon came on the scene in Nelson more than 30 years ago. Since then, there's been a procession of top young triathletes achieving at the highest levels.

Jamie Hunt was the first teen to shine. In the late 1980s, Taylors Footwear in Richmond sponsored a triathlon in which competitors ran from Richmond to Nayland Pool, swam four lengths (or maybe six), biked back to Richmond via Champion Rd, Hill St and Queen St, then ran from the roundabout down to the sponsor's shop.

It was a surprise when an unknown boarder at Nelson College won the event one year, but Hunt soon established himself as a top competitor and went on to have one of the best careers of any New Zealand triathlete.

Between 1996 and 2000, Hunt competed as an elite competitor in 20 International Triathlon Union races. In all of his first 12 ITU races, he finished in the top 10. In gaining second places in Auckland in 1996 and Ishigaki in 1998, he finished ahead of notable Kiwi triathletes Hamish Carter and Cameron Brown, a regular occurrence.

In 1996 he placed fourth in the world long-distance championships in Muncie, in the United States.

After Cancun, Mexico in 2000, where he placed 11th, Hunt faded from the elite ranks to pursue other interests.

He next appears in ITU results in 2009, when he placed fourth in the 35-39 age group at the sprint distance world championships in Brisbane, but his greatest success may prove to be with 2XU, the company he co-founded, and which now sets the benchmark internationally for clothing for triathlon and other sports.

Following Hunt, Andrew Jones and Leighton Matheson appeared on the scene. Also from Nelson College, the pair established Nelson as a nursery for teen talent, with Jones dominating school triathlon nationally before he was killed in a cycling accident in 1993. His name lives on in the annual Andrew Jones triathlon for secondary school students, still hosted annually by the Nelson Triathlon Club, assisted by Jones's parents.

Matheson placed second in the junior ranks at the national championship and selection race in 1994 and competed for New Zealand in the world championships later that year in Wellington. He now lives in Singapore, from where he devises training programmes for his father Brian, still a Coast to Coast competitor at 65.

Following in the footsteps of Jones and Matheson was Campbell Hanson, another teen to burst unheralded on to the scene.

“Leighton Matheson, Greg Fraine, Karl Williscroft and Andrew Jones were the driving force," said Hanson. (Williscroft was a top cyclist and Fraine, then a top Nelson and New Zealand triathlete, has gone on to become Triathlon New Zealand's high-performance coach.)

Hanson made the New Zealand junior team for world championships in Cancun, Mexico in 1995 and Cleveland, Ohio, in 1996, along with fellow juniors Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemmell, but found study and an eye to the future to be more potent attractions.

He's now married, with a new baby in the family and has a physiotherapy practice in Sydney, where his clients include the junior Wallabies.

With all that, he's found time to return to triathlon competition. In the selection race last year for October's world championship in Auckland, he placed third behind Stephen Sheldrake, a world age group champion in 1997 and John Newsom, who writes Hanson's training programmes.

He rejoined the Nelson Triathlon Club last year in order to complete the membership obligations required to compete at the world championships. With Sheldrake and Newsom, a clean sweep of the medals in the 35-39 age group is not out of the question.

Hanson is fast, winning the NSW sprint title in his age group earlier this year, but his future may lie in longer distances.

After winning the Singapore half-ironman in March, his next goal is Ironman Melbourne in March, with a view to having a crack at the world championship in Kona.

Hanson acknowledges the difficulties of combining work and family with training.

“Being able to fit it all in and overcome obstacles definitely helps with other aspects of life. Most people can do a lot more than they think if they back themselves and are prepared to work hard.

“You always want to be able to train more but one of the things that makes it enjoyable as an age grouper is accepting just that . . . you have to be able to get the best out of yourself with what available resources you have. Being able to fit it all in and be happy in all other aspects is what makes it enjoyable. It may be an individual sport but you need a good team around you or it won't work. I couldn't do it without my wife Holly. Family time is the most important thing, so you have to keep it all in perspective.”

The Nelson Mail