News & Updates
A Miller’s Tale
Oliver Miller proved the one-lap king with victory in both the 400m flat and 400m hurdles at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field championships in Christchurch last month. Steve Landells chats to the versatile 19-year-old about his story so far and hopes for the future.
Oliver Miller may have become the first man in 122 years last month to complete the national 400m and 400m hurdles double but the Aucklander has made a habit of executing impressive doubles
At the 2016 and 2017 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships the rangy athlete completed gold in both the 400m and 300m hurdles and aged just 19, it is beyond the realms of possibility that Oliver has the scope to secure more such doubles in future.
Born and raised in the Central Auckland suburb of Westmere, Oliver was inspired to start athletics after watching a family friend compete at the Auckland Championships.
His enthusiasm ignited, aged nine, Oliver joined the Pt Chevalier club which quickly proved a wise move after he won every single event on the programme – 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, long jump, shot put and discus throw – at his club championships that season.
“I only joined (the club) halfway through that season but beating kids who had been there all season made me realise, I must be alright,” he explains.
Further success quickly followed as Oliver won a glut of medals throughout his time competing at Colgate Games. He excelled in several events including high jump, long jump and the 200m. Yet it was the 400m which proved his speciality, particularly after lower his PB my seven seconds – to 56 seconds – between the age of 11 and 12.
Combining athletics with football at the time – where Oliver played centre back for the Western Springs premier team – he quickly discarded his soccer ambitions to focus on athletics after joining the training group of Rochelle Coster.
As Coster is a hurdler, last month she landed her maiden New Zealand 100m hurdles titles and she is also joint-holder of the national record for the distance, all athletes under her wing were encouraged to try the hurdles.
For Oliver it opened the door to a new world.
“I always really enjoyed the challenge of the event,” explains Oliver who stands at an imposing 1.94m (6ft 5ins). “I also had the ideal physique and stride length for the longer hurdles.”
From September 2014 the former St Peter College student focused on combining the 300m hurdles and 400m flat while shortly after switching coaches to join Joe Hunter – who coincidentally also guides Rochelle.
Competing in both events he struck 300m gold and 400m silver (missing out on gold by 0.01 in a swift 48.03 ) at the 2015 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Timaru.
In 2016 he completed the U18 300m hurdles/400m double at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships before later that year sweeping to double gold – 400m (48.55) and 300m hurdles (37.27) – despite competing with a fibreglass cast having taken a nasty hurdles tumble in the countdown to the event.
In 2017 he excelled to land the national U20 400m hurdles title and also posted a PB – which still stands today – of 53.81 when finishing third at the Australian Championships.
Meanwhile he signed off his school career in December of that year by retaining both national secondary schools title in Hastings in 48.68 (400m) and 37.49 (300m hurdles).
A useful 1.97m high jumper he also signalled despite his height an end to what he terms his fun event at the end of that season to focus on his track ambitions.
More latterly he and his coach, Joe, have intensified their focus on the 400m hurdles – I pragmatic decision made with the view as to how he could best fulfil his international ambitions.
“Joe said to run internationally as a 400m sprinter requires insane speed and while I’m fast in New Zealand terms, I’m nowhere near the very best,” explains Oliver. “I realise, however, that if I can get my 400m flat down to low 46 (seconds) – a time that would not be quick enough to qualify for the Olympics as a 400m runner – but if I could run that quickly and have a two-second differential between my 400m and 400m hurdles time then a low 48 (seconds clocking) would that get me into an Olympic final.”
His 2017-18 domestic campaign was frustratingly marred by a nagging hamstring problem. Competing the 110m hurdles Oliver revealed more of his versatility to striking gold at the U20 event at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships. Yet a hamstring pull 150m into the 400m hurdles saw him abruptly abandon attempts to finish the race.
At the Australian Championships in Sydney he placed fifth in the final in 54.95 but some way short of his best he finished the campaign shy of the qualification mark of the World U20 Championships in Tampere
“I was far from at 100 percent,” he says of his form and fitness for much of that season. “I couldn’t run full out and I also didn’t have that full range of movement.”
Returning to training, where he incorporates three track sessions, one recovery run and one to two gym sessions per week alongside his training partners he has for the most part successfully managed the nagging hamstring over the past 12 months.
Stronger and fitter than at any point in his career he opened his 2018-19 campaign by blitzing to a 200m PB of 22.06 and after a brief stint on the sidelines because of the hamstring issue he re-emerged to clock a winning time of 54.15 – the fourth quickest 400m hurdles time of his career – at the Auckland Championships in February.
In dire conditions on day one of the programme at nationals, he secured his maiden senior 400m hurdles title, clocking 55.03 and two days later, running from the outside lane, repelled the challenge of Luke Merceica to record 47.99 to land the 400m title and finally trim 0.04 from his PB set way back in December 2015.
“The whole weekend was super positive for me and based on that performance, I’m happy with how the season has gone,” he explains.
Guided by Athletics NZ Lead Coach for the hurdles, Joe Hunter, Oliver believes he is poised for better times ahead and he is whole-heartedly convinced in his coach’s abilities.
“Coaching is Joe’s life,” Oliver explains. “He’s so knowledgeable and puts his heart and soul into his athletes’ development. Technically he is second to none and I turned down the chance to pursue a US scholarship because I don’t think I could find a better coach.”
Describing himself as “fearless” over the hurdles and boasting what he terms a “ridiculously competitive” nature Oliver now hopes to harness those qualities to achieve more in the sport.
“Long term I would like to compete at the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games,” he says. “I’m not really looking at the Tokyo 2020 as I don’t think I’ve quite developed to that level yet. But the 2021 World University Games is a target.
“I would love to become as successful with the event as Elisa and Tom have been with pole vault and shot. Everybody now talks about those events and it would be great to put the 400m hurdles on the map in the same way.”
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