Coach guides stable of hurdlers to clean sweep

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 08/04/2011
Hurdlers
DAVID HALLETT/The Press

GOLDEN TOUCH: Coach Jill Morrison, second left, with champion hurdlers Mackenzie Keenan, Fiona Morrison and Kelsey Berryman.

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A Christchurch track and field coach has achieved her "clean sweep" goal after guiding three athletes – including her sister – to national hurdles titles.

Jill Morrison mentors Fiona Morrison, Kelsey Berryman and Mackenzie Keenan, who won the 100m hurdles titles in the senior women's, 19 years and 16 years grades at the recent track and field national championships in Dunedin.

It was a proud moment for coach Morrison, who watched her charges run personal bests and then receive gold medals from injured Commonwealth Games 100m hurdles bronze medallist Andrea Miller.

Fiona Morrison clocked 13.60sec, Berryman 14.26sec and Keenan 14.14sec with Morrison breaking a 26-year-old Canterbury centre record and Keenan also setting a new Canterbury mark in her grade.

The trio had a disrupted buildup to the nationals due to the February 22 earthquake but showed great dedication to practise on grass tracks wherever they could find them – and travel to Timaru once or twice a week to train on the Aorangi Park track.

Throughout the season they had one goal in mind – to peak for Dunedin.

"We called it the clean sweep," Jill Morrison said. "We talked about that for most of the season. That was one of our aims, to win three golds, so it was pretty pleasing to actually do it."

Morrison, 33, was a high jumper and triple jumper who dabbled in hurdling during her own athletics career. She retired "three or four years ago" but has been coaching for "10 years or so".

She started when sister Fiona, now 22, "wanted to learn hurdling". Being a dutiful big sister, Jill took her down to the track "and gave her a few sessions".

"Within a year she had broken a Canterbury age-group record and more people heard I was into coaching and asked me to help them. It's just grown from there," Jill said.

Now, she has "eight or nine athletes" under her wing at the Christchurch Old Boys United club, based at Christchurch Boys' High School.

Fiona Morrison, Berryman, 19, and Keenan, 16, have all represented New Zealand. Morrison will race in the Australian national championships in Melbourne next weekend against Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sally Pearson.

Berryman is in the Rio New Zealand development squad, comprising athletes with the potential to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games. All three are former Oceania age-group champions and Morrison and Berryman have been to Youth Olympics.

Jill Morrison said coaching sister "Fi" was a privilege, though it helped "there's a 10-year age gap between us". Fiona agreed the partnership had worked well since Jill began guiding her "when I was 12 or 13".

"A lot of people have asked, `don't you have arguments?', but we don't really seem to. We get on together quite well. I listen to what she says and she listens to what I say and we work off each other."

She said Jill had been very influential in the trio's success. "She's down at every single training; I don't think she's missed one this year. She writes all our programmes and she comes up with a season plan as to when we are going to peak.

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"It's been good having three of us train together. We've all pushed each other, we've all been at similar levels, which has really helped." The athletes lead busy lives off the track. Fiona Morrison is studying science at the University of Canterbury, Berryman is a trainee teacher and Keenan is in Year 11 at St Margaret's College.

They also are multitalented sportswomen. Morrison is a member of the Black Sticks hockey national development squad, Berryman is in the New Zealand women's touch team and Keenan is a keen cyclist.

Coach Morrison supports them playing other sports. "If you're training all year round for one sport, it can be quite hard. It's good to have a bit of a break."

Fiona Morrison admitted it was "challenging" fitting both in with the seasons starting to overlap since her selection in the Black Sticks development squad. She enjoys both – "if you ask me [what's my favourite sport] in the winter, I'd say hockey, if you asked me in the summer, I'd say athletics. I want to keep both going as long as I can, but I guess eventually I will have to pick one over the other."

Meanwhile, sister Jill is keen to continue coaching her hurdlers. But she won't be able to repeat the triple gold medal coaching feat at next year's nationals – Keenan and Berryman will be racing in the same grade.

- The Press

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