News & Updates
Dale leaves a proud legacy
Athletics NZ Throws Coach Dale Stevenson left earlier this month to return to Australia after eight very successful years in the role. Steve Landells chatted to the man who has left an indelible imprint on the future of throwing in both the Canterbury region and the wider New Zealand.
Few overseas coaches who have plied their trade in New Zealand have left quite the same legacy as Australian Dale Stevenson.
Best associated with his long and successful coach-athlete relationship with Tom Walsh, whom he helped guide to three world shot titles, a pair of Olympic bronze medals and the 2018 Commonwealth title, the departing Athletics NZ coach has also overseen the transformation of Oceania hammer record-holder Lauren Bruce and successfully guided Dame Valerie Adams through the final year of her incomparable career, which climaxed in Tokyo with an emotional fourth Olympic medal.
Yet during his eight memorable years living and based in Christchurch brought other personal highlights away from the glare of high performance competition and he admits one of his proudest moment arrived last month on a regular Saturday afternoon visit to Nga Puna Wai – the world-class Christchurch based athletics facility which opened its doors in 2019.
“I was carrying out a few errands that day when I decided to duck down to the track,” he says. “At that moment there were three different coaches working with three different throws squads, all training concurrently. From children to masters athletes and all points in between. My three-year-old daughter even threw some Hammer.”
“When I first arrived in Christchurch QE II Stadium and Nga Puna Wai were non-existent. To be able to train was cumbersome and it was really hard to even book training time after school on school grounds.
“To see the ease, fluidity and enjoyment of different people enjoying throwing at a facility I had some hand in orchestrating was a real moment of pride. Having Nga Puna Wai with its top-quality throwing facilities to hand over to future generations is something I’m proud of.”
Arriving in 2014 to take up the role as Throws Event Group co-ordinator, Dale could not have envisaged the eight-year journey he experienced in New Zealand.
A 2010 Commonwealth Games shot put bronze medallist and a London 2012 Olympian he developed a connection with Tom, who used to sleep on Dale’s couch in Melbourne when the Kiwi competed in Australia, and over time he offered informal guidance and advice to the rising shot put star.
Working at that time as a primary school teacher in Melbourne, when the opportunity presented itself to work for Athletics New Zealand Dale leapt at the opportunity.
“The motivation was the opportunity to reconnect with something I am passionate about, and to do it professionally was too good to pass up. Initially it was going to be a two-year stint through until the Rio Olympics – that was my mindset at that time.”
Taking on the event group co-ordinator role his task was to run training camps, put on clinics and to execute an overall event group plan, however after officially becoming Tom’s coach in 2015, Dale’s role evolved to become more that of a coach leading high-performance campaigns.
Starting with a small squad of athletes including Amanda Murphy and Hayden Hall (both now professional coaches) organically his shot put group was bolstered by the presence of Ryan Ballantyne and Nick Palmer. It became Dale’s role to establish a systemised approach with a larger critical mass of athletes.
“Tom’s success necessitated those changes and I found myself in a very different position to when I started at Athletics NZ,” he admits. “We had a good amount of momentum and we enjoyed five exciting years of growth from 2015 until the tidal wave of Covid hit us in 2020.”
Yet as we made mention of earlier in the article, Dale has been much more than a pure coach and he took a very hands-on approach to ensure the state-of-the-art throws facility at Nga Puni Wai became reality.
Determined to act upon an initial promise to build the facility – Dale played a leading role in seeing it come to fruition.
With the collaborative support of others and through a combination of fundraising and philanthropic support, Dale was part of a team which manged to bring in tens of thousands of dollars to ensure the outdoor throws facility was built during phase one of the build. Working with HPSNZ and council stakeholders to attract funding, he also designed and orchestrated the build of the dedicated indoor throwing facility on site.
“The throws facility which allows both indoor and outdoor training and a gym facility will be there for many generations to come,” he says. “There were some tough conversations and some emotional back and forth, but Christchurch and New Zealand is undoubtedly better for it. It is one of the only such facilities in the Southern Hemisphere. I wanted something to put us on a par with our competition in Europe, the US and around the world and we now have that.”
Dale insists he has hugely evolved as a coach over the past eight years. Far less certain than back in 2014, experience has taught him to be more prone to asking questions rather than instantly providing answers.
But does he quite believe how far he has come from “rookie coach” in 2014 to the man who has guided athletes to three Olympic bronze medals?
“I would never have believed it would take the path things have,” he adds. “None of this has been by design, it has been organic. I’m very much of the belief that if you do good things, with your heart in the right place, then usually good things come to you. I had the chance to work with Val (Dame Valerie Adams) and steer her through the last year of her career which was completely opportunistic. If it wasn’t for Covid and other uncontrollable circumstances, I would never have had that opportunity to apply my professional lens on Val’s incredible career. I’m really grateful for everything that has happened. You can have plans to ascend in various industries, but in coaching you are largely subject to the talent and the people you manage to cross paths with.”
Dale, who returned to Melbourne with his family last week, will still work for Athletics NZ through until August’s Commonwealth Games where he continues to coach Lauren Bruce, also acting as technical advisor to Jacko Gill – a role he is hugely excited about.
He leaves New Zealand with mixed emotions. Bringing up his two young daughters in Australia has been a big factor in his decision to leave but a big part of his heart remains in Aotearoa.
So what are his hopes for the future of the sport and more specifically throwing in New Zealand?
“I’m excited by the next chapter because I think a strong crop of intellectual property is being cultivated in New Zealand,” explains Dale. “I would love to see a big push towards women’s throws. It would be remiss to not try and build on the legacy paved by Valerie and Beatrice (Faumuina). It is our duty to leverage that knowledge and experience to help the next generation, if we wait too long we break that tether. We have got a good cohort of coaches and the point of difference with us in New Zealand is that we have to collaborate – we simply can’t outcompete many other nationals by size or spend.”
After eight years living in New Zealand – the land of birth of both daughters – what will he miss most about the country?
“I’m going to sorely miss the ease with which you can get around in New Zealand,” he explains. Christchurch in particular is a beautiful hub and the people of the South Island are good, hearty people. Post-quake Christchurch has had a rough decade, but I’ve enjoyed seeing the city evolve and come back to life and I look forward to one day returning and seeing more of its evolution in the future.”