Kiwi darling Murray has competition sewn up

GOLDEN GIRL: Tania Murray won gold for NZ at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland.
GOLDEN GIRL: Tania Murray won gold for NZ at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland.

Our track and field team looked like going without gold in the Commonwealth Games at Auckland, until lanky Central Otago teenager Tania Murray toppled Northern Ireland's Janet Boyle in a jump-off.

What are you up to these days?

I live in Cromwell and I've got two kids (Jaide, 12, and Caleb, 9) and last year married my partner, Russell Haigh. I was sports co-ordinator at Cromwell College, but I've recently set up my own dressmaking business. I do alterations and sewing, and sell imported dresses from America. It's called The Button Tin. We bought an old villa and restored it and it's close to old Cromwell town. It had the perfect setup to have the shop in the front, and I work from the back room. It's been going for six months and it's going well.

Do you still get recognised in the street?

Yeah, just a little bit. Because I was involved with kids in the college and their sport, and I still coach kids' athletics on a weekly basis.

I've got a little squad of girls and one guy, and they do their training for high jump and triple jump.

Any future stars who might emulate their coach?

Adriana Mawhinney had a second and a third in the NZ schools' nationals for high jump, and she won the triple jump. She's got records that she's hitting, and she'll go into seniors at the end of this year. She's a great kid.

Do you know you still hold the national high jump record (1.91m, set in 1991)?

Yeah, isn't that a surprise, 20-something years. Records are there to be broken and I'd be delighted if someone was able to tip it up a bit further. It does surprise me that it's still around.

Back to 1990, what's your most vivid memory of that golden day at Mt Smart?

It was such a long competition; we were out there for five hours. The memory is very clear and I haven't lost any of it. When I was going for 1.85m, one of the jump-offs after 15 jumps or something when the bar had come down, my dad yelled out ‘come on Tans, it's only a training jump'. I thought ‘yeah actually I should be able to jump this height, regardless'. I cleared that height and didn't get too excited because I thought Janet Boyle would have cleared it, but she missed it and the gold medal was mine.

So your Dad (Bill) gets a lot of the credit?

Good old Dad. He had done all his refereeing to be an official, and he was an official the day I broke the NZ record at the Cally [in Dunedin], he got to measure that.

Was the public reaction bigger than you expected?

I was only 19 and to win a gold medal when you're only just starting out in athletics, that was a little bit mind boggling. It was the only gold medal [in track and field] at home and it was one of the last days of competition, so it was a good surprise. I was very proud of that moment.

We had pictures at the airport [in Dunedin] and lots of TV reports, and my brothers, who were watching it on TV in Dunedin, got a bit of coverage. And lovely little old Ranfurly got their bit of publicity, because I was basically a Central [Otago] girl who'd gone to Dunedin.

Did it change your life?

No, definitely not financially [laughs]. They were the days when you did it for the love of it. That was a big part of my life, and I put a lot of things on hold to do athletics. When it was time to finish, it was definitely time to hang up those shoes.

When did you retire?

I retired at about 30, after an injury when I dislocated my ankle joint. I couldn't get back, tried for about a year but lost that desire. That was about 2001.

Do your kids know you were world famous in NZ?

My son came home from school not so long ago saying 'I've got a project I've got to do on somebody famous'. The last time he'd done something on Brendon McCullum, and this time he said ‘I'm not fussed on doing too much research on this one, so I might just do you'.

It was easy for him to ask a few questions and he didn't have to look on the computer. He was able to take the gold medal to school and tell them how high Mum jumped.

Where's the gold medal now?

For years and years it lived in the sock drawer. But now it's actually got a little box frame and sits on the shelf, on display.

Did the win open any doors for you?

At that stage I was dressmaking and I've gone full circle to the passion I started with. It's quite nice I'm able to give back to athletics in some form through the young kids as well. It takes a lot of people to get to the stage that I got to; coaches and family support, you just can't do it by yourself.

The Dominion Post