Hamblin welcomes rising 'team' of Kiwi runners

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 26/02/2014
Nikki Hamblin
SHINY: Nikki Hamblin is all smiles after claiming the silver medal in the women's 1500m at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, 2010.
Nikki Hamblin
BACK IN BLACK: Middle-distance specialist Nikki Hamblin has recovered from injury and is among the last group of names added to Athletics NZ's 20-strong squad for next month's Commonwealth Games.

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Nikki Hamblin is excited, almost uncontrollably so. And there's certainly justification.

Firstly, she's fully fit and running competitively again in both the 800m and 1500m. That's quite a big deal when you consider her injury and surgery issues, which led to her missing the London Olympics and not running a competitive 800m for more than two years.

Secondly, it's Commonwealth Games year, which means a shot at repeating or bettering those spine-tingling exploits from Delhi 2010, when she won silver medals in both glamour middle-distance events.

But perhaps the thing the 25-year-old from Cambridge is most excited about is the competition she now faces from within these shores.

When she was trying to qualify for Delhi, there was nothing. Fast forward four years and while Hamblin has been dealing with plenty of off-track issues, there's been something of an uprising in New Zealand women's middle-distance running.

In the 800m there's now a 22-year-old from Canterbury called Angie Smit, who ran at the world championships last year and is now only behind record-holder Toni Hodgkinson (1:58.25) and Hamblin in the alltime list of fastest times by New Zealanders.

She's on the rise and certainly capable of not only cracking the 2-minute barrier - her personal best is 2:00.03 - but medalling at the Commonwealth Games.

In the 1500m there's the van Dalen twins, Lucy, who ran at the London Olympics and is second on the alltime New Zealand list behind Hamblin, and Holly. Plus the likes of 17-year-old Rosa Flanagan, who is a real talent in longer races such as the 3000m steeplechase and 5000m.

Some may see the competition as a threat, but not Hamblin.

"I'm totally stoked to be part of this female group of athletes that's coming through," she says.

"The future of women's middle-distance running looks awesome. This is no disrespect to anyone I was racing against four years ago, but it was just me by myself. It's so awesome for the sport that there's this group of girls with rivalries now.

"You turn up at a race and you know you're going to get a race, it's no time trial. You have to be ready to compete. I'm loving it and totally excited for the rest of the season."

Hamblin describes the group more as a team rather than competitors and, at just 25, she is the veteran of the pack and wants to lead from the front.

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"Running can sometimes be a lonely thing but when you're in a team it just takes one person to step up and everyone else wants to follow. We've got another 10 years of this group and we're going to send big teams and hopefully successful teams away overseas."

Hamblin is "already fired up" for the next time she races against Smit, having gone 1-0 down in their unofficial series at the International Track Meet in Christchurch last Saturday.

It was Hamblin's first 800, in nearly 2½ years, having struggled with injury and surgery to repair a torn Achilles.

"I'm running again and competing, you don't know how exciting that it is," she says, for the third time in the interview.

"My goal is obviously the Commonwealth Games. It's going to be challenging for me as it's my first full season back after a couple of years with injury and surgery and missing out on London after I'd qualified in the 1500m."

Hamblin, who holds the New Zealand 1500m record at 4:04.82, acknowledges it's going to be "tough" to make the team for Glasgow.

"The main target is the 1500m and then the 800m if opportunities and my fitness allows before the cut-off date in May."

Her big race is in Melbourne on March 22 which she expects to be a "hot qualifier" given the strength of the field, with the New Zealand nationals the following week in Wellington.

- The Press

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