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Alice soars high after enjoying dream summer
If there is a candidate for happiest athlete at the 2023 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships, then it is hard to beat the joy experienced by senior women’s high jump champion Alice Taylor.
The Hamilton City Hawks athlete provided plenty of cheer as set a significant 3cm PB with a 1.87m clearance to climb to number eight on the all-time New Zealand lists. It was an outstanding performance by the emerging 20-year-old athlete, which poses some interesting questions for the future of a talented performer who was previously better known for her prowess in combined events.
Entering the 2022-23 campaign with a high jump PB of 1.73m, she has added a monster 14cm to her best throughout the season and obliterated her heptathlon PB by more than 550pts. There is little doubt her improvement has been seismic, yet the significance is perhaps most relevant in that it will ultimately lead to her being reunited with her twin sister and 1.86m jumper Josie Taylor – who is currently studying and training at Rice University in Houston.
Born in Christchurch, Alice and her sister relocated to Cambridge when the pair were Year three students and were first introduced to athletics as primary age children at Cambridge Athletics club.
“I just remember having so much fun at club nights, hanging out with friends,” recalls Alice. “There was absolutely no pressure to perform. Club nights were so cool.”
Playing “a heap of sports” when she was younger, Alice represented Waikato in the sport of lacrosse in an Australian tournament and was a competitive gymnast for a couple of years. But her focused shifted after a pair of athletics coaches – Mike and Jo Guest – arrived at Cambridge High School. Aged 14 at the time she was introduced to a range of different events including high jump and hurdles and on the back of this athletics quickly became the priority. Excited to try the new event, the Guests later encouraged Alice to compete in an U16 pentathlon competition in Whanganui – a moment which ignited her did her passion for combined events.
“I remember that first competition was awesome,” she says. “Back then, I was encouraged to do all events. Over time Josie got really good at high jump, so I think because of that I wanted to be really good at my own thing, so that’s why I gave multi-events a go.”
While Josie developed into a top-quality age-group high jumper, winning a pair of national U20 gold medals, Alice went on to win the 2021 U20 national heptathlon title – while also claiming New Zealand U20 medals in high jump and long jump.
The pair may have headed in a slightly different direction in terms of their athletic priorities, although as Alice insists their drive and motivation comes from a similar place.
“We are similar as personalities, Josie is a real motivation to me, and I probably Snapchat her every day,” adds Alice.
“We are both very competitive. Board games didn’t tend to go well in our house, as we would often end up fighting. But we are very supportive of one another and Josie was very proud of my 1.87m jump.”
After completing her final year of school at St Pauls Collegiate School in Hamilton, Alice moved down to study pre-veterinary studies at Massey University in Palmerston North in 2021. Here she teamed up with Anne Thompson, George McConachy and Richard Drabczynski as her coaching team. During her time in the Manawatu, she continued to make progress and collected a national senior heptathlon bronze last year but after missing out on gaining a position at veterinary school in the middle of 2022 she returned back home to Cambridge and sought a new coaching set-up.
While disappointed to leave Palmerston North – out of the disappointment has emerged many positives, not least through her athletics, where she is now coached by her father, Mike Taylor, supported by strength and conditioning expert Angus Ross and leading throws coach Debbie Strange, who currently guides New Zealand javelin record-holder Tori Peeters.
The combination has played a huge part in a significant improvement as an athlete with Alice saying of her father.
“He has been awesome, and has done a fantastic job coaching me,” explains Alice. “He’s definitely improved as a coach. Over time, I’ve learned to listen to him, whereas in the past I maybe didn’t and I’ve regretted it.
“Angus has made a huge difference and given me a good strength base coming into the summer season and Debbie has been awesome with my javelin, and she has even been working on changing my technique to that of a rotational shot thrower.”
Focusing on strength and conditioning programme during the winter has given her a strong foundation to focus more time on her technical skills during the summer and the combination appears to have worked. Devoting her time between training at Porritt Stadium in Hamilton and in her hometown of Cambridge she opened her multi events season by adding more than 450pts on to her heptathlon PB when second at the South Island Combined Events Championships in Dunedin last November, accumulating a handy 4883pts.
Individually, sizeable PB’s have been set in a range of events with her high jump PB enjoying a 4cm mark up in November after a 1.77m in Dunedin.
If the first half of the season was fantastic the second half of the season has continued to witness massive improvements. At the Harcourts Team Ledger Capital Classic in Wellington she defeated a high-class domestic field to win the high jump with a best of 1.84m. Later in February she added another 74pts on to her heptathlon PB at the New Zealand Combined Events Championships, finishing fourth with a best of 4957pts.
However, Alice admits despite setting another PB in Whanganui, she was not wholly satisfied.
“Afterwards I was a bit upset because I had set a goal of getting 5000pts, but then when I reflected on the performance, I was extremely happy to set a PB.”
Moving on to the high jump at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington she tried not to place too many expectations on her performance – which has been her philosophy throughout the season. But believing her bar work – and ability to lift her hips over the bar – coupled with improved running have contributed to much better high jumping, she was optimistic 1.87m was in range after a couple of near misses at height at the Capital Classic.
And when she cleared 1.87m with her second attempt at Newtown Park, it was what she describes as a “surreal” moment.
“It was a strange feeling to be honest,” adds Alice. “I don’t take a look at the bar when I jump because it freaks me out, but I was a little sad afterwards because I didn’t get to see how high it was.”
Besides winning the first senior high jump title in the family and a mark 1cm higher than her twin sister, Josie, has ever achieved she refused to ram home the point to her sibling.
“Josie has been out for the season because of injury, so I didn’t want to give her a hard time,” explains Alice. “Before she was injured, she jumped 1.86m indoors (in Birmingham in the USA in mid-February) and was having an amazing season. She has lots left in her.”
Naturally her season has given her bags of confidence and in August she will move on to join her sister at Rice University in Texas where she starts a degree in exercise and sport medicine.
But where does she see her future in the sport as a combined eventer or high jumper?
“I’d love to compete in combined events, but if the high jump goes really well, I might change my mind. I’d love one day to represent New Zealand, that would be the ultimate goal. I would also like to score more than 5000 points (in the heptathlon) with the longer-term goal to compete at the 2026 Commonwealth Games. To do so would be amazing.”
***Watch Alice Taylor in action in the women’s javelin at the Sir Graeme Douglas International presented by Harcourts Cooper & Co at Trusts Arena, West Auckland on Thursday (16 March).
Buy tickets here
Follow the livestream from 4.25pm on Thursday here
For updated entry lists go here
For updated timetable go here
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