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28 February 2022 • General

Aaron relishes multi-events platform at nationals

Aaron Booth competing at the 2022 Sir Graeme Douglas International presented by Harcourts Cooper & Co (Photo: Alisha Lovrich)

World University Games gold medallist Aaron Booth will for the first time be given an opportunity to compete in decathlon at the 2022 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships (March 3-6) as the senior national combined events championships feature as part of the modified four-day event. The Aucklander chats to Steve Landells about his rollercoaster journey over the past two-and-a-half years and his excitement competing this weekend.

Athletics can be a very unpredictable sport. It was two-and-a-half years ago when Aaron secured gold in a personal best of 7827pts at the World University Games in Naples.

It was a major breakthrough, an upgrade on the bronze medal he had won at the previous edition of the World University Games and at the time he spoke confidently of making that next step and qualifying for Commonwealth, World Championship and Olympic teams.

For a range of factors – some physical and some mental – Aaron has not quite been able to make that next step yet this weekend (5-6 March) the Aucklander has a unique chance to showcase his decathlon ability on the biggest domestic stage as the New Zealand Combined Event Championships features as part of the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships.  

“This is massive for our event,” explains Aaron, who started his athletics journey at the age of three at Glendene Athletics Club. “I don’t think we (the multi-eventers) intentionally get pushed aside but this is a great opportunity for the decathletes and heptathletes to compete at the highest profile event in New Zealand. Obviously, it is a shame that this year we won’t be competing in front of fans, but this is a big step for our sport and certainly in decathlon we look like we have a very strong field competing. It is cool we get to compete at nationals.”

Since his stunning gold medal victory at the 2019 World University Games, Aaron has endured his fair share of highs and lows.

Naples was supposed to be the gateway to more success but following his impressive and in many ways underrated gold medal he was not overwhelmed by additional motivation – quite the reverse in fact.

“I’m not sure I’d say I suffered from a post-Games depression, but I definitely struggled,” admits Aaron who has freely shared his emotions during this difficult period in his podcast The Athlete’s Platform. “Back in 2017 when I won bronze at the World University Games it was such a high for me because it was something I didn’t expect.

“After winning bronze I told myself that two years later I was going to go back and win gold and although I managed to achieve my goal I just didn’t experience the same buzz as winning bronze. I was not ungrateful to win gold, but I just think my personal journey to win bronze having been ranked 16th was a far bigger achievement.”

Rudderless for a period and uncertain about what he wanted to do away from athletics he found the abbreviated 2020 season tough. He competed indoors early that year before the pandemic struck but when the NCAA Indoor Championships was cancelled on the eve of the event his overring emotion was one of relief. 

“I was not happy at that time,” he recalls. “I did a couple of indoor heptathlons but I was not in a great space in terms of my love for the sport.”

He departed Kansas State University where he had been coached by highly-rated Cliff Rovelto and moved west to study a master’s in sports management at Long Beach State University in California.

Aaron fully embraced the academic opportunities which he says gave him clarity around his future ambitions to work in sport. However, initially at least, his passion for athletics continued to wane.

After chatting to Matt Dallow his former coach and long-time mentor he took three months complete break from training. However, shortly after his return he injured his neck in a gym accident, which badly compromised his training.

In late-2020 he moved to live for three months in Perth, Western Australia to avoid COVID in the US. Struggling to train because of the neck injury, he nonetheless returned to Long Beach last March determined to deliver his best for the university.

Under the coaching of Brandon Hierholzer he trained for several weeks ahead of the conference championships and went into the meet in Irvine with low expectations given his lack of fitness.

Despite this he surprised himself to win with an overall score of 7520pts to qualify for the NCAA Championships in what proved to be a huge turning point for the Kiwi.

“After I crossed the line in the 1500m I walked to the side of the track, sat down and started crying,” admits Aaron. “I was proud that I’d gone through everything I had and fought my way through to just finish the decathlon. I really wished my mum and dad had been there, they have would have been so proud.”

The following month he competed at NCCA Championships in Eugene – venue of the 2022 World Championships in July. Describing the stadium as “ridiculously cool” he performed with pride in the premier US collegiate meet repeating his finishing position from the 2019 edition by placing sixth (7644pts).

Despite his lack of basic fitness, which was particularly telling in the running events, his ability in the technical events stood up remarkably well which forced a readjustment in his approach to the sport.

“It proved to me that in the technical events I could still perform well without a whole lot of training and that has helped shape how we train now,” explains Aaron.

“In means we don’t have to force a lot of stuff. If I’m tired, we know we can make adjustments as I don’t have to work on certain events as much anymore.”

Aaron returned to New Zealand in October and while his body continues to battle injury he has since reunited with Matt Dallow as his coach.

The toll of training for multi-events has impacted on his body and trains just four times a week (twice a week at Douglas Track & Field in Waitakere and twice a week at Matt’s home gym). While the relatively light training schedule may not seem the ideal recipe for decathlon excellence, Aaron insists he is in great hands with his coach.

“From the moment I got back training with Matt it felt like a professional environment, which is something I’d not had for quite some time,” he explains.  “I don’t think many people understand his knowledge base and just how good a coach Matt is. I know by working with him that in the future it will be make me a better coach too.”

Working for a period as a quantity surveyor, Aaron has also been boosted by receiving a Prime Minister’s Scholarship which acts as a boost to cover his training costs but will also support his future career ambitions.

While his body can no longer handle big training workloads, he is still optimistic for the future and still harbours some big ambitions at both the national championships this weekend and beyond.

“It is easy to say I just want to go out and have fun and do what I know I’m capable of (in Hastings) but I do feel a lot of pressure going into Nationals. If I do get the A standard (for the Commonwealth Games at 8100pts) it potentially opens some doors for me.

“I just need to do things as precisely as possible. If I do that, I can score well. I just have to hope we have good conditions. I haven’t won a national senior New Zealand title and I would love to do so.”

Post-nationals the Waitakere AC athlete intends to fly to Europe where he has an invite to compete at the Multistars decathlon in Italy with potentially more European decathlons planned for later in the season.

But for Aaron he has a broader goal beyond his personal ambitions and that is to inspire other multi-eventers in New Zealand.

“I think there are so many athletes in New Zealand who if they took up decathlon, would smash me,” he adds. “I would love to see more youngsters get into multi-events in New Zealand for sure.”

With the senior element to the New Zealand Combined Events Championships part of the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championship he has the ideal platform to put multi-events on the map.

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