NZ hammer thrower looks at home in Glasgow

MARK GEENTY IN GLASGOW
Last updated 05:00 30/07/2014
PROUD KIWI: Hammer thrower Julia Ratcliffe celebrates after winning the silver medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX MEDIA NZ

PROUD KIWI: Hammer thrower Julia Ratcliffe celebrates after winning the silver medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

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Julia Ratcliffe's older sister Sarah proudly displayed the sign for a second day running at Hampden Park.

''Hammer it home Ratcliffe.'' And she did.

Two weeks past her 21st birthday, and the pride of Princeton University's athletics team couldn't have looked more at home.

A Commonwealth Games hammer throw silver medal was her reward, capping a remarkable year in which she also became NCAA champion in the United States. And the former dux of Waikato Diocesan School for Girls sealed her spot at the prestigious university on academic performance, studying economics.

So calm and confident was Ratcliffe that for a moment she dared to dream of gold, against a daunting opponent in Canadian Sultana Frizell whose season best was more than 5m further than Ratcliffe's.

''I was thinking I'd have to fight for bronze, then when she [Frizell] was on 70.50m I was thinking maybe I could get the gold. Then I got a bit big for my britches and she smashed it again,'' Ratcliffe said.

Frizell won with 71.97m while Ratcliffe's best was 69.96m, agonisingly close to the magical 70m barrier she's broken just once. She was always holding second spot comfortably, with her nearest rival Sophie Hitchon of England a distant 1.24m away.

Ratcliffe raised her arms and clapped her supporters in the cavernous stadium as she strolled out of the ring with silver assured.

It was a family affair, amid a plethora of screaming Scots who crammed in for the 100m finals.

Father Dave, who encouraged his daughter to take up hammer throw when she was 12, was trackside as her coach, alongside mother Sue and sister Sarah, and aunties and cousins who they'd stayed with in London as Ratcliffe prepared for Glasgow.

''It was kind of nice, I'd go across if I was a bit antsy and say 'Hi Dad, how's it going?'. He didn't give me too much, he knew I had it in me and he just let me do my thing.

''It was just encouragement, just saying 'keep it focused, keep it going, you're doing great'. He can get a bit stressed but he was very calm today so that helped me.''

Ratcliffe was over the moon with her ''unreal'' effort to snare silver when she thought she faced a battle to climb the podium.

A Princeton team-mate, the Jamaican triple jumper Damon McLean, also strolled over to wish her luck beforehand..

''I just felt ready. I sat around all day in my room and Sarah Cowley my room mate was very patient and gave me some space to have a nap. I was just waiting to get out there and do my thing.''

Now she's eyeing a holiday with friends, then the start of the US college indoor season in December.

She has two years left at Princeton, by which time the Rio Olympics will be imminent with much tougher competition from the US and Europe.

At this rate, Ratcliffe can't wait.

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