News & Updates

13 July 2022 • Track and Field

Hamish overcomes major obstacles on the Road to Oregon

Hamish Carson in action during the 2019 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships (Photo: Alisha Lovrich)

Combining the virtues of persistence, perseverance and sheer bloody mindedness, Hamish Carson is all set to earn his ultimate reward next week as he makes his World Championship debut in Eugene, Oregon next Friday (22 July) in the heats of the men’s 5000m.

Based in Europe for the past 15 months and locked out of New Zealand by the Covid pandemic perhaps many would have long since waved goodbye to their athletics dreams. Yet despite being jobless, skint and operating in a Covid world he has defied the many obstacles in his path to earn his first Black Singlet since appearing at the 2018 World Athletics Indoor Championships in Birmingham.

Hamish dramatically emerged as a World Championships contender when recording a stunning 35-second PB of 13:17.27 in Huelva, Spain in May and an impressive follow-up display in his Diamond League debut in Paris helped book his spot in the New Zealand team.

“It’s been bloody hard since I left New Zealand,” admits Hamish, 33, who three times has had his tickets booked to return home, only for Covid-related complications to deny him the chance to jump in the plane. “I’m just really happy to make the team. Luckily, in Huelva I managed to show what I thought I was capable of. I had just missed the entry standard by a few seconds and at that stage I knew I didn’t have enough ranking points, but I managed to get an invite to Paris and was extremely happy with the way I ran in very hot conditions. I’m just stoked to be added to the team. I’m still very new to the 5000m and I’ve got room for improvement. I’m excited to be in Eugene and I’m determined to give it my all.”

Hamish, a seven-time New Zealand 1500m champion, has long been an athlete of rich pedigree. Formerly coached by Arch Jelley, the man who guided Sir John Walker to the Olympic 1500m title, he ran his metric mile PB of 3:36.25 in 2016 and qualified for the Rio Olympics. Hamish, who hails from the Kapiti Coast, failed to progress beyond the heats in Rio but was left wanting more.

“Rio was wonderful of course but I wasn’t satisfied,” he explains. “I really wanted to move to the next level and make a world final, but I got injured shortly after Rio and that made life tough the following year.”

For the several years that followed his athletics life was a catalogue of misfortunes and near misses. In 2018 he missed the Commonwealth Games entry standard by 0.05 in the 1500m. He moved on to be coached by Tomasz Lewandowski, the brother of Poland’s 2019 World Championships 1500m bronze medallist Marcin Lewandowski. However, despite enjoying some good performances, injuries continued to take a toll and just when he was “hitting his straps” under the coaching direction of Tomasz the pandemic struck. For a period, Tomasz quit coaching and Hamish returned to New Zealand. Coached by Chris Pilone for the remainder of his time back in New Zealand, Hamish battled a knee injury during the 2021 domestic season and in April last year he headed over to Europe once more.

“I went over with the intention of qualifying for Tokyo (Olympics) and I knew if I didn’t make the team, it would probably be the end of my running career,” he admits. “I threw everything at it. I linked back up with Marcin and his training group (which also included two-time World Championship 800m silver medallist Adam Kszczot).

However, despite a series of impressive times – Hamish three times dipped under 3:37 for 1500m – he could not crack the Olympic standard of 3:35.0.

2021 should have been the end of Hamish’s international athletics journey, but Covid had other plans. With New Zealand closing its borders, Hamish could not return home. Based in Leuven, Belgium where he now lives with his Belgian girlfriend, he opted to keep going in the sport in pursuit of further Black Singlets.

“It isn’t an ideal situation, I don’t have a job and I am unsponsored so I’m bleeding money,” he says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the aid of my girlfriend, who ensures I have a roof over my head. I haven’t been a carded athlete since 2015 but I really love the sport. I’ve been doing it longer than I thought I would be doing it for but through the Covid circumstances it has just made sense to keep going.”

Hamish also pays a big debt of gratitude to his club – Wellington Scottish – who have proved a rock of support and helped fund a recent pre-season altitude training trip to St Moritz, Switzerland.

“Scottish have helped me a lot over the years and Todd Stevens has always helped out. When I really needed their help, I received it and it has paid off.”

Through that love and support, Hamish has not only survived but thrived in 2022.

During the indoor season he twice dipped under the World Indoor Championship entry standard of 7:50.0, setting a near 3000m PB of 7:47.54 in Torun, Poland. However, all set to feature at the World Indoors in Belgrade, Serbia just days out from the event he suffered the body-blow of contracting Covid and was cruelly denied the chance to compete.

“It was really tough getting Covid,” he admits. I’d trained really well, qualified reasonably early for once and I felt I’d done the best preparation I could. But there are some things you can’t control.”

To make matters work the infection took a heavy toll on his body and for the best part of a month his heartrate – even on easy runs – was prone to sky rocketing.

Yet once fully recovered he started to show strong signs in his Belgian-based training group led by coach Rik Didden, which includes Belgian Pieter-Jan Hannes, a 2016 Rio Olympian in the 1500m, and World Indoor 3000m finalist Michael Somers. Enjoying the camaraderie of training in a group and the idyllic forest runs he started to make progress. However, given his background as a 1500m runner why has this season he decided to extend his focus to the 5000m?

“I have found over time that 5k training works best for me,” admits Hamish. “That 800m/1500m training can take quite a toll but with 5k training I can go and go. I’ve known for a long time I should be able to run a good 5k, I’ve just never quite been able to show it, mainly because I’ve always prioritised 1500m races.”

While there has been another factor which should not be ignored in explaining his sizeable improvement this season – apart from odd jobs – he has not worked during his time in Belgium.

“In New Zealand I worked long hours,” where he worked as a botanist managing large reforestation projects. “It is difficult to combine that with training. Probably not working (during his time stranded in Belgium) has been super helpful.

In Huelva, Spain he ran more than 35 seconds from his PB to run 13:17.27 and go joint sixth on the all-time New Zealand rankings alongside 1972 Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Rob Dixon. Shy of the entry standard of 13:13.50 he nonetheless gained what ultimately proved precious extra points running at the Paris Diamond League.

Some ten years earlier Hamish had attended the meet as a spectator, but after earning a spot in the 5000m he grabbed the chance with both hands running 13:23.37 for ninth in brutally hot temperatures of more than 30C. 

“Going for Paris was definitely the right call,” he explains. “Although I’d never really raced in that kind of heat before and it really hits you. It is more like your motor functions stop working and I needed to be treated by medical staff for an hour post-race in order to get the body temperature down.”

Yet all the pain, sweat and sacrifices were worth it when it was announced Hamish had made the New Zealand team via the Road to Oregon rankings.

Finalising his preparations with a training stint in Boulder alongside fellow New Zealand 5000m World Championship representative Geordie Beamish, Hamish will take to the track for his heat of the 12-and-a-half lap race on the afternoon of Friday July 22 (NZ time).

Surely few athletes competing at the US crucible of the sport at Hayward Field will more appreciate the opportunity, so what does Hamish hope to achieve in Eugene?

“My goal is to make the final and I think I can do that,” he says. “I also think Geordie can do it too and it would be great to see both of us in the final.

“I’ve been based in Europe but missed out on two championships, so for it to finally come off makes it that much more special. It has been a long road since Rio, and it has been good to show I can still make it to the pinnacle of the sport.”

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