New Zealand shot put prodigy Jacko Gill has been rated among elite company after capturing a stunning gold medal at the world junior athletics championships in Canada this morning (NZT).
Takapuna Grammar student Gill, aged 15, beat competitors up to four years older to become the second junior world champion from New Zealand after world and Olympic champion Valerie Vili's (nee Adams) win eight years ago.
Gill's second round 20.76m effort, the world's leading age group mark this season, beat Serbia's Bozidar Antunovic, 18, by 50cm in the final. Third was China's Ding Yongheng, 19, with a personal best 20.14m.
Gill also set a world under-16 age group record and improved on his New Zealand under-19 record of 19.92m set in winning the New Zealand title at Christchurch in March.
New Zealand team leader Terry Lomax described Gill as a "freak" athlete who was on the verge of an achievement that has only been completed by one other athlete - Jamaican sprint great and world record holder Usain Bolt.
Bolt made his name by claiming a world junior title (for under-20 athletes) before he won a world youth crown (under-18).
Gill could match that by claiming a youth gold in France next year.
The Aucklander beat Bolt in setting another mark. He is the youngest male gold medallist since the two-yearly junior event began in 1986, beating Bolt by 139 days.
"The world's only seen one other athlete like Jacko," Lomax told NZPA.
"He's a freak talent, to be at this level you have to be."
Gill opened the final with a 20.25m heave, 15cm longer than anyone managed in qualifying before "letting out the monster", as Lomax described it.
"The competition was over by that stage, it was absolutely phenomenal," he said.
"He's been hitting throws just over 20m in training so the 20.25m wasn't a shock. Then to add another 50cm on top of that was just amazing."
Gill, son of former shot put and discus national champions Walter and Nerida Gill, described himself as thrilled. He scraped into the final with a best effort of 19.28m, just 8cm past the qualifying mark.
"And now I'm going home with the gold. That's very special for me," Gill said.
"This is my first world competition of this scale and now I hope I can carry this win over to the Youth Olympics in Singapore (next month).
"I was the young guy coming into the competition and pleased to be able to pull this off since I'm one of the smaller guys in the field."
The slightly built Gill was comfortably the smallest in the six-man final, something confirmed by Lomax, who smiled when a pre-competition photograph was taken.
"Jacko's standing in the middle and he's half a head shorter than any of them and probably half their width. He looks like a boy out there until he starts throwing the shot."
The only other New Zealand junior world medallists aside from Vili and Gill have been Gavin Lovegrove (javelin, 1986), Joanne Henry (heptathlon, 1990), Shaun Farrell (400m, 1994) and Jordan Vandermade (decathlon, 2006), who all claimed bronze.
Lomax, who oversees Athletics New Zealand's programme for the 2016 Olympics, said Gill was making superb progress under Vili's coach Didier Poppe. He had developed an exemplary technique and a hungry attitude to succeed while his uncanny strength meant he could bench press nearly 150kg.
Athletics NZ high performance director Kevin Ankrom said Gill's gold didn't come as a huge surprise.
"He's been within our scope for some time," he said.
"Guys like that don't just pop out. He's still considered a youth and he's still got some time to go."
Ankrom said Gill's biggest test lay ahead, when he moves from a 6kg shot to the senior weight of 7.26kg in his late teens.
"It's a challenge for a lot of the male athletes, it's a whole new step. Val has been doing the same weight of shot (4kg) since she was 13."
Before today, Gill was best known for his early years in the sport.
Walter Gill built a shot put circle in the family yard and challenged his 10-year-old son to reach a fence 15m away.
He was soon doing so, wrecking several palings in the process, before the shot began soaring over the fence.
Poppe, who has 35 years experience as a professional throwing coach in France, has previously said Gill was in a league of his own.
"He has got such potential that I honestly have never seen in a young athlete at this level. It's really a great experience for me to be part of the process to try and help him reach high levels," Poppe said.
Gill will travel to France next week to train with Vili and Poppe ahead of the world youth Olympics.
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