News & Updates

1 February 2023 • Track and Field

Hannah jumps to the next level during stellar season

Hannah Sandilands has made a huge long jump breakthrough in the 2022-23 campaign. Credit: (Mark Roberts).

Despite only taking up competitive athletics four years ago, Hannah Sandilands (nee Moloney) proves it is never too late after this season stamping her mark on the national women’s long jump scene with impressive wins at Potts Classic and Jumps to Music.

The 26-year-old Christchurch Old Boys United athlete improved her personal best by a massive 29cm in one competition to claim top spot with an eye-catching 6.20m to triumph at Potts Classic before backing this up with a 5.95m leap to secure the win at Hawera.

Now she hopes to make the next steps in her athletics journey by jumping further and earning a podium spot at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington (2-5 March).

Having competed socially as a triple jumper for Papanui Toc H as a schoolgirl she drifted away from the sport to focus on her passion for hockey. However, after meeting her now husband James Sandilands – the 2020 New Zealand 110m hurdles champion and athletics coach – during her university years she became re-engaged with the sport.

“I’d done athletics as a youngster, mainly as a triple jumper. One year I finished sixth at the New Zealand Secondary Schools champs, but I was more serious about my hockey back then and athletics was just one of several sports I did,” explains Hannah.

“Since meeting James, I’d supported him and his athletics career for several years from the sidelines, it looked a lot of fun so and in 2019 I registered to try the sport once again.”

Initially joining the coaching group of Jill Morrison, Hannah was exposed to a quality training group which included, seven-time national 100m hurdles champion Fiona Morrison and 2022 national U18 100m hurdles gold medallist Julia Burnham. Part of a supportive environment she enjoyed the training and camaraderie of the team and although the expectation was to one day return to triple jumping this never quite transpired.

“We decided the long jump was a good place to start on my comeback,” she explains. “My first season I jumped low to mid five metres for the long jump, which gave me encouragement to push forward and dive into the training. I thought long jump would be much easier than triple jump – thinking it was just a run and a jump, but it is actually way more technical than that. I became hooked on long jump and never went back to triple.”

In her first years of serious competitive athletics in 2019 she set a PB of 5.31m, learned a lot and made progress in 2020 – adding a 13cm to her lifetime best and finishing sixth on her debut appearance at the Jennian New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Christchurch with a windy 5.62m.

“Although it was a windy performance, I was quite surprised to jump that distance at that time,” she adds. “Looking back this was a competition where I really started to gain confidence.”

Yet confidence can be fragile in any athlete, and it was one step forward two back after a “disheartening” 2020-2021 summer campaign. Struggling with an Achilles issues she produced a best of 5.45m and finished tenth at the national championships in Hastings with a modest 5.17m.

“I had some big goals and set the bar high in 2021 but it didn’t work out and I had to quickly deal with the reality of that season,” she explains. “I did have some injuries and I couldn’t quite get past that.”

The determined Hannah responded well to the difficulties of the 2020-21 summer season by enjoying a more successful 2021-2022 campaign. Much more consistent she soared out to 5.60m to finish fifth at the New Zealand Championships in Hastings before making the decision in the middle of last year for her husband, James, to take over the jumping programme while retaining Jill as her speed coach.

For some the thought of being coached by their husband would be too demanding, yet for Hannah it has been a smooth and successful switch.

“James is a very reassuring and calm presence, so if I pick up an injury it is not the end of the world, he prefers to focus on the positive and says we can still focus on some other areas in training,” explains Hannah. “I’m also lucky in that because I live with him it is easy for me to communicate to him and how I’m feeling, and we have the flexibility to change up the sessions depending on how I’m feeling. He is very good at offering alternatives and keeping it all very positive.”

Combining three track session with two gym sessions a week her winter training was hampered by a “myriad of injuries” which began with a hamstring issue. Focusing more on strength work, she only returned to running in September and although her build up to the 2022-23 has been far from perfect she did experience the much more positive distraction of marrying James in October.

Indeed, married life seems to be working out just fine for her athletics, when just one week after the wedding she returned to competition to setting a 31cm PB of 5.91m (-1.6) in Christchurch to elevate her to a whole new echelon of long jumping.

“That jump surprised me because I went in with no real expectations,” explains Hannah. “It had been a hectic month or so leading up to the wedding, but maybe because I didn’t give myself too much time to focus on the upcoming competition, I went into it with a relaxed frame of mind.”

Since that performance, Hannah has suffered further injury blows. Two weeks after her breakthrough 5.91m she tore her calf and later injured her hip – a nerve-related injury which initially brought about fears she may miss a large portion of the season.

Nonetheless, with her flight tickets booked to Hastings she committed to jumping at the Potts Classic and it proved an inspired decision. After a first round PB of 5.95m (0.4) she then went out to a sizeable 6.20m jump in round two – aided by a perfect 2.0m/s wind.

“The first jump gave me a lot of confidence because I knew I could do better on my run up,” she recalls. “To be that close to 6m showed me the possibilities for the day. For the 6.20m jump I knew as soon as I took off, I got a lot of height. I looked back, thought it was big, and when the distance was confirmed at 6.20m I was ecstatic. One of my rival competitors Lara (Hockly), who is lovely, said ‘check the wind-reading.’ When it was bang on (the allowable limit of 2.0m/s) I was over the moon.”

Hannah reaffirmed her current shape and new standing in the sport when just four days later she followed this up with victory at Jumps to Music in Hawera with a 5.95m (1.5) leap and the Cantabrian is relishing her remaining competitions this season where she hopes to make continued progression.

Yet why does the full-time cultural and engagement co-ordinator believe she made this giant leap forward this season?

“I have really focused on my run-up – which is a massive part of the jump,” she says. “It is hard to jump far if you don’t set up well and I think that’s what has made a difference. I’ve also worked hard on my speed and I’ve also benefited from all that strength work when I was out injured with the hamstring problem.”

To win a long jump medal at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships and to compete in Australia are both goals for the remainder of a season, yet what are her longer ambitions?

“I just want to see how far I can jump,” she says. “I guess after the distances I’ve jumped this season I need a re-think. Up until now athletics has been a competitive hobby, but it might be a little bit more than that now.”

By Steve Landells

***See Hannah in action at the 2023 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington (2-5 March). Tickets here via Humanitix.