Barrett is walking to different beat these days

FAMILY MAN: Kiwi walker Craig Barrett with his wife and daughters.
FAMILY MAN: Kiwi walker Craig Barrett with his wife and daughters.

Kiwi walker Craig Barrett reflects on his most famous race in the latest instalment of Fairfax Media's Where Are They Now series.

Craig Barrett won a silver medal in the 50 kilometre walk at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester but it was his effort four years earlier in Kuala Lumpur that garnered most of the attention.

The Hamilton athlete had gold in his sights when leading with about 1km to go, before the heat and humidity took a cruel toll on Barrett, who staggered and collapsed.

He tried gamely to continue but New Zealand chef de mission Les Mills intervened, pulling him from the race and getting him medical treatment.

The 42-year-old, who represented New Zealand at three Olympic Games, four Commonwealth Games and six world track-and-field championships, retired in 2006 and turned his attention to forging a career in architecture.

Q: When you finished your walking, it seems you got cracking on a career?

A: It was time to. I did four years of study, graduated in 2010 with a Master of Architecture and went straight into private practice. I'm now working as an employee for a company called Service Resources in Auckland. We always had the intention of coming back to Hamilton, but it just kind of hasn't worked out.

Q: Was architecture your chosen path?

A: It was. It's what I've always wanted to do. But I couldn't really do it full time until I finished my athletics career. It was really one thing or the other. I got to the point with my walking that I sort of realised I'd pretty much achieved all I could achieve, and if I was going to do any more it was just going to be badge-collecting.

Q: How hard was it family-wise to have to be a full-time student?

A: We had our first baby halfway through that four-year period, so that was a little bit difficult, but we got through that. Christine was very supportive. We now have two daughters, Isabella and Hannah.

Q: So what does your job have you doing?

A: I'm involved with the architecture side of things - we do modifications for disabled people across a whole range of things. We're contracted to a company called Enable New Zealand and they facilitate modifications, there's ACC funding and Ministry of Health funding, and we do the architectural side - get the building consents, tendering, managing the project.

Q: How many people do you run into through work that recognise you from your athletics career?

A: Not many (laughing). My work-mate knows of my exploits.

Q: Most Kiwis and sports fans will know you through your race at the Commonwealth Games in 1998. What do you think of that day now?

A: It was a day to remember, that's for sure. And one that people often remind me of. You pick yourself up again and carry on. You don't dwell too much on the result, but I guess it's one of those things that defines you as a person and shapes your story.

Q: Given the advances in sports science, do you think things would be different now?

A: I took full responsibility for the result for that day. I don't think any of the advances in the sports science side of things would have made a difference as such. I was well read; it wasn't like I was without information. It's just one of those decisions where you wished you'd pulled back a bit. The perception was that I wasn't taking the right drinks and things like that, but that wasn't the case. I shouldn't have had that ice pack on my head, that was the problem. I got my temperature out of whack with how hot I was. So that's all I would have done differently.

Q: Will you be watching much of the Commonwealth Games next month?

A: We've got Sky so we'll definitely be watching. I'm a little bit disappointed that there's no walks this time.

Q: Has there been a drop-off in race walking in New Zealand?

A: I don't think so, it's basically been following the same pattern. You've got your good base of steady club walkers and some people who just like to keep fit, and one or two people who are at the top echelon. We've got a guy called Quentin Rew who's done really well. I mentally prepared myself for my New Zealand record to go, but he didn't quite get it. I'm sure that's going to happen in the future. I was talking to his coach and said "just leave it till next year and I can tell people I held it for 20 years". You have to be able to dine out on these stories.

Q: Is it a hard sport to attract top-level competitors to, given how taxing it is?

A: It's a little difficult for people to see a decent pathway if you're looking at the big picture . . . It's quite a selfish sport and you have to have support people around you. I can see how for a lot of people it wouldn't be an attractive sport.

Q: Did you ever want to break into a run?

A: Well, I was disqualified many times along the way - but there was never a blatant run.

The Dominion Post