Above: Joseph Millar taking out his fifth NZ 200m title at the 2018 NZ championships. Photo by Alan McDonald / Macspeedfoto.
Drinking from the last chance saloon at the Australian Championships in Gold Coast, Joseph Millar seized his opportunity to convince selectors to pick him for the 200m in February.
And now the 25-year-old sprinter returns to Carrara Stadium desperate to turn in another scintillating performance at the eagerly awaited Gold Coast Commonwealth Games – the athletics programme of which begins on Saturday (April 8).
It has not been a smooth journey for the Tauranga Ramblers sprinter, who has endured a mix of untimely illness, injury and the departure of his coach over the past nine months of so, but throughout it all New Zealand’s fastest man has hung tough to remain on track for a tilt at the pinnacle event for the year.
Joseph made a giant leap forward during the 2017 domestic season setting a 100m PB of 10.18 – to climb to number three on all-time New Zealand rankings – and smashing the 200m national record with a blistering 20.37 at the national championships.
He then headed to Europe for a near three-month stint, climaxing with an appearance at London World Championships but his experience in the sport’s heartland proved mixed.
Coached then by Dr Paul Gamble, an Auckland-based Englishman, Joseph based himself out of London with a top-class training group led by 9.96 100m sprinter and 2017 Diamond League winner CJ Ujah, but the Kiwi admits losing focus on the bigger picture.
“It was good that I was given the change to jump in with them (for training), but I wasn’t used to such a competitive environment and this left me burnt out ahead of races,” he says. “It wasn’t until I left that environment, rested and recovered did I start to run quicker times at the World Championships.”
During a stuttering European circuit, he struggled to recapture his form from the domestic campaign yet in London he ran a respectable 10.29 to advance from the 100m preliminaries and followed this up with a 10.31 clocking to exit the first rounds heats.
Buoyed by his performance in cold conditions he went into the 200m full of optimism only for an untimely stomach bug to hamper his chances.
He ran a solid bend but depleted of energy down the home stretch he had to settle for sixth in his heat in 20.97 and was eliminated. Yet preferring to suck the positives out of the experience he looks back fondly on his global championship debut.
“It was definitely cool to know I was competing against the pinnacle on my sport,” he explains. “I learned a lot from how to cope through the rounds and how a call room (where the athletes are penned before the race) before a major event is far more serious than for meet in Australia.”
Joseph then flew on to Taipei for the World University Games to conclude his season and earned some recompense for his disappointing showing in the half-lap event at the World Championships by finishing sixth in 21.04 in the 200m final in intense heat, extreme humidity and a 3.8m/s headwind.
After returning to New Zealand in October he then received a blow with the news his coach, Dr Paul Gamble, was moving from New Zealand to Canada. Disappointed to lose Paul’s ‘attention-to-detail’ he has instead turned to rising coach James Mortimer to plug the gap for technical advice and has more latterly added New Zealand U18 200m and 400m record-holder Mark Keddell to his team to also fulfil a similar role.
“I first spoke to Mark in 2015 when I was having some coaching and injury issues,” he explains. “It is good to have hIm on board. Mark ran some incredible times aged 18 but never kicked on. I feel by chatting to him I can learn from some of the mistakes that perhaps me made.”
Based on Auckland’s North Shore he leads a nomadic life often training on his own out of AUT Millennium, Waitakere and Mt Smart Stadium with semi-regular input from James and Mark.
Carrying out on average four gym sessions and five track sessions per week he has also spent some time working with HPSNZ strength and conditioning coach Angus Ross in Cambridge to improve his strength.
A niggling groin issue put the brakes on Joseph’s attempt to qualify for Gold Coast early in the season before he went to the Australian Championships in what was his last realistic chance to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.
Inside the Carrara Stadium he ran 20.60 for second - just 0.03 down on winner Alex Hartmann – short of the required B standard time of 20.44 but selectors took into consideration the 2.1m/s headwind as he successfully booked his slot for Gold Coast.
“I had a little cramp in the warm up and I started to become worried,” he says. “I actually felt my calf a little as I came off the bend. Momentarily I thought should I stop? Before thinking, if I stop I’m not going to run the Commonwealths.”
Thankfully he ignored the urge and becomes the first Kiwi man to appear at the Commonwealth Games in the 200m since James Dolphin finished an impressive eighth in the final at the 2006 Melbourne Games.
Reluctant to brand himself a superior 200m sprinter to the 100m, and believing his groin problems this year have restricted his ability to accelerate from a low position and impacted upon his 100m times - he nonetheless enters the 200m – one of the most competitive events in the Commonwealth programme – full of confidence.
“I know it will be tough, but I would like to make the final,” says Joseph, whose mum, dad, granddad and three of his five siblings will be in attendance on Gold Coast. “Then once I’m in the final I can hopefully do something special, improve the New Zealand record and get as close as possible to the 20-second mark. I believe I cause a surprise and pull something out of the bag.”