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Hometown heroine Hulls hopes to thrill the locals
On her hometown track, sprinter Georgia Hulls will be one of the most popular athletes on show at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Hastings. Steve Landells catches up with the versatile sprint ace about her career so far and her hopes for nationals.
It is sometimes a little hard to believe Georgia Hulls is still aged only 21.
An age-group sprinting prodigy who gobbled up national medals for fun in her youth, the Hawke’s Bay-raised athlete represented her country aged just 15 at the 2015 World U-18 Championships before two years ago featuring in the New Zealand national record-breaking 4x100m quartet, which secured bronze at the World University Games.
Seemingly around for much longer than her 21 years, her journey has not always been smooth but leading into her “home” nationals, Georgia appears to be in the form of her life.
Last month, she chipped 0.04 from her 100m PB (11.64) in Auckland and, currently boasting an unbeaten record over her more favoured 200m, offers genuine optimism leading into the New Zealand Track and Field Championships, which take place over two days from Friday.
“I’ve been very pleased with the season,” she says. “The times haven’t always been what I would like, but the conditions haven’t always been great either. I’ve really enjoyed racing this season. I’ve felt that real spark and competitiveness return, which is what I’m always striving for.”
Born in Kent in South East England, she relocated with her family at under four-years-old to settle in Havelock North in the sunny Hawke’s Bay.
A highly competitive child, she joined Hastings Athletic Club a couple of years later. As a child, she also played hockey and rode horses but her number one passion was sprinting, something Georgia admits “I never grew out of”.
Boasting strong sporting genes, dad Dean is a former hockey player and Sports Director at Hastings’ Boys High School. She does, however, attribute much of athletics talent to her grandmother, Jean Adamson.
“My grandma used to run the 400m and pentathlon in the UK and just missed out on an Olympic place,” she explains. “She later went to World Masters competition and is very passionate about athletics.”
Under the coaching of Dean, who had no formal background in athletics, she made rapid strides and, by the time of approaching her teens, Georgia was excelling on the national stage.
Scooping up North Island Colgate Games gold medals from 100m to 400m quickly became the norm and in 2013 she served further notice of her exciting potential by completing the junior girls’ 100m and 200m double at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Hamilton.
The next year, she successfully defended her national Secondary Schools 100m and 200m titles in Wanganui and also anchored her school, Havelock Girls High School, to a surprise 4x100m gold medal, a moment she describes as one of her “favourite athletics memories”.
In 2015, she completed the 100m and 200m U-18 sprint double at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Wellington.
There is little doubt a key part of her early success was the coaching input of her father, Dean.
But does she have any theories as to why the dynamic worked so well?
“Looking back, it is sometimes hard to know, but he knew me very well and offered his total support. He was never an actual athletics coach but we learned together. He is a very logical thinker but perhaps the strongest element to his coaching was the mental side, he knew how to get me fired up,” she says.
Georgia’s form earned her selection in the New Zealand team for the 2015 World U-18 Championships in Cali, Colombia – in what was her first major overseas assignment.
The overall experience of competing on the international stage proved inspirational for the 15-year-old, although she fell short of her high expectations. In the 100m she set a PB of 11.85 in the heat before exiting the semi-finals, only to then be unwittingly caught up in a 200m controversy.
Initially disqualified from her semi-final for committing a false-start, she was later reinstated after it emerged she was the victim of a faulty sensor pad on the starting blocks.
Later that night, she was allowed a chance to run the 200m solo in pursuit of a time of 24.07 to advance to the final. However, understandably emotionally fatigued by the experience she ran 24.18 (at that time her PB was 24.09) and fell just short of her goal.
“In Cali I was very hard on myself and, looking back, perhaps I should have been prouder of my performances,” she explains. “But at that time I was aiming for the final and a top-five place. I knew I was capable of that and when it didn’t happen, it hurt a lot.”
Yet, if everything had up until that point in her domestic career gone swimmingly, later in 2015 she received a jolt of realisation after claiming 100m and 200m silver medals at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Timaru behind Zoe Hobbs and Lucy Sheat respectively.
While it would be harsh to be too critical of the performances, for several season she found it tough to match the dominance she had previously enjoyed.
At the 2016 New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Dunedin, Georgia claimed third in the 200m and fourth in the women’s U-20 finals and, although she qualified and competed at the World U-20 Championships in Poland that year, she disappointingly did not feature in the New Zealand 4x100m team and exited the semi-finals of the 200m.
During the 2016-17 domestic season, she performed solidly by winning 100m and 200m silver medals at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Champs and the same colour medals at the New Zealand Track and Field Champs in Hamilton, and also flirted with the 400m for the first time, recording a PB of 55.25.
Although, why did she opt to step up to the one-lap distance?
“I’ve always found the event quite exciting,” she explains. “I naturally have good speed endurance and it was honestly to get some confidence back. It was the chance to try out a new race, with new competitors and to get that winning feeling again.”
Desperate to sign off her school sprinting career in style in front of home supporters in Hastings at the 2017 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in both the 100m and the 400m, her ambitions nonetheless withered.
“The atmosphere at the 2017 nationals was amazing but I pulled my hamstring in the 100m final,” she says. “It was the first and so far only really serious injury of my career, which carried on for much of that season.”
It also helped bring about a coaching change. Dean, acknowledging he had taken his daughter as far as he could, introduced Georgia to leading Auckland-based sprint coach James Mortimer.
A was a decision which turned out to change the whole direction of the young sprinter’s career.
“I instantly connected with James and his coaching philosophy,” Georgia says. “He understands not only the physical and technical side to the sport but he also has a great understanding of the balance between life on the track and life away from the track.”
In April 2018, she headed north from Hawke’s Bay to re-locate to Auckland’s North Shore and join James’ coaching group – where the original focus was to perform as a 400m sprinter.
The Massey University accountancy student quickly took to her new adopted city but she was forced to make some adjustments to the way she trained, including adding in gym work for the first time in her career.
“The programme was a lot more structured and far more technical. I was used to doing a lot more quantity and at first it looked to me like we were hardly doing anything, but in reality it was so much harder training because I had to focus much more on the technical elements.”
Georgia believes she has made some enormous strides in terms of her running form and block starts under James’ guidance but there has been another massive advantage from joining a training group led by reigning national 100m and 200m champion Zoe Hobbs.
“Before I moved to Auckland, I trained by myself and at first it was a huge transition to train as part of a group,” she explains. “Every training session initially felt like a race, which was amazing and watching each day what athletes like Zoe put into training has been priceless.”
At the back end of 2018 she picked up a bout of glandular fever which impacted training but, despite that, she impressed at the 2019 New Zealand Track and Field Champs in Christchurch, registering a pair of PBs to win senior women’s 400m gold in 55.09 and 200m silver in 23.65.
Later that year, Georgia continued her renaissance by featuring in the women’s 4x100m bronze-medal-winning team at the 2019 World University Games in Naples.
Disappointed to have exited the heats of the 100m, she more than made amends by running the third leg of the sprint relay to help deliver precious metal in a national record time of 44.24 alongside Zoe, Olivia Eaton and Natasha Eady.
“It was one of my favourite races of all time,” she recalls. “We’d all been running together since 2015 but we had lost a bit of momentum in the relay programme since disqualification at the 2016 World Juniors, so to put it together in Naples was amazing.”
Rediscovering more of her old “spark” during the 2019-20 domestic campaign, she claimed bronze medals in the 100m (equalling her PB of 11.68) and the 200m on her return to Nga Puna Wai for the national championships and this season appears to be running stronger than ever.
Setting her 100m PB time of 11.64 at the Sir Graeme Douglas International in Auckland recently and boasting a three-from-three 200m record this season bodes well for nationals, where she will have the additional motivation of competing at her home track.
“It means so much to me to be competing in Hastings.” she says. “My mum and family are very involved in the committee and on the day my mum (Rachel) will be working in the medal tent. Genuinely, Hastings is one of the best tracks in the country. It is a quick track and we normally have great weather. It is just a great facility.”
So what are Georgia’s aims and ambitions for this year’s rescheduled nationals?
“It will be hard because there is a lot of depth across both events but I’m aiming for a top two in the 100m and to win the 200m,” she says. “The times goals are weather dependent but I’d love to go 11.5 for the 100m and low 23s for the 200m.”
For the future, the long-term aim is still to step up to the 400m but, such is her versatility, the 100m and 200m are still on the radar and she is excited given the current depth of women’s sprinting for prospects in both the 4x100m and 4x400m.
Georgia also has half-an-eye on next year’s Birmingham Commonwealth Games but above all she just wants to continue to enjoying her athletics.
“I like how athletics is very measurable and it is easy to see how good you are comparative to everybody else,” she says.
“I love that feeling of pushing yourself and running fast. There is something very raw and cool about it!”
For more information on the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track and Field Championships, including the results, timetable and field lists, please click here
Friday Live Stream Links:
Saturday Live Stream Links:
Please note: The Sky Sport Next live streaming coverage will start at approximately 10am on each day and not all events will be featured. There will be a Facebook Live of the race walking on both mornings on the Athletics New Zealand page.
Jennian Homes New Zealand Track and Field Championships
Friday 26 March – Saturday 27 March
Mitre 10 Park Hawke’s Bay, Hastings
The last major athletics meet in New Zealand before the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics
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