Kiwi athlete Cantwell dies in Tahitian hospital

GONE TOO SOON: New Zealand athlete Lesley Cantwell has died in a Tahitian hospital.
BARRY HARCOURT/Fairfax NZ
GONE TOO SOON: New Zealand athlete Lesley Cantwell has died in a Tahitian hospital.

New Zealand athlete Lesley Cantwell has died in hospital after falling seriously ill following the completion of a race walk in Tahiti on Tuesday.

Cantwell, 26, who hailed from Southland, was admitted to hospital after collapsing on her way to a medal presentation after she won a 5000m track walk event at the Oceania Area Track & Field Championships in Papeete city. 

She passed away at 9am this morning after her family had arrived in Tahiti with assistance of Athletics New Zealand.

It is understood she suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage but an autopsy will have to be carried out to confirm this. 

In a show of support for Cantwell - who has a three-year-old daughter - the 50 other New Zealand athletes in competition in Tahiti decided to wear arm bands with the athlete's number written on their arms. 

In a statement released this afternoon Athletics New Zealand CEO Scott Newman said: "This is a very sad time for Lesley's family, friends and the team. She will be sorely missed by all who knew her in the athletics world, but particularly the close-knit race walking community."

Cantwell had a fine record in athletics winning the New Zealand junior championship 3000m race walk title in 2006 and representing New Zealand in a Trans-Tasman test match with Australia in 2011.

Her victory in Tahiti was the biggest of her career and a major boost to her hopes of representing New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year.

Speaking earlier in the week Athletics Southland manager Lance Smith said Lesley was a respected member of the Southland athletics community.

Her dedication to training, despite her nearest competition living in Dunedin, was a credit to her, he said.

Cantwell's mother, Jude, was New Zealand 1500m champion in 1989 while her father Shaun is an athletics coach and deputy principal at Fiordland College. 

Fairfax Media