News & Updates

22 February 2024 • Track and Field

Marvellous Maddie enjoys dream heptathlon

Maddie Wilson en route to winning a national high jump silver medal at the 2023 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track& Field Championships. Credit: (Alisha Lovrich).

In the two-day rollercoaster ride of gruelling combined events competition, athletes are expected to experience ups and downs and wild fluctuations in performance levels.

Perfectly smooth PB rich heptathlons (or decathlons) are very rarely the reality in the technically, physically and mentally most demanding of athletics events.

Yet for Maddie Wilson, perfection (or at least as near to heptathlon perfection as possible) is exactly what the 21-year-old Christchurch-based athlete experienced at the New Zealand Combined Events Championships in Dunedin.

Across the event, Maddie set an astonishing six PB’s out of seven events – only denied a perfect seven out of seven by a +2.8 windspeed in the 200m. Overall, she improved her heptathlon PB by a mind-blowing 641pts with her cumulative total of 5990pts, ensuring a maiden national title and elevating her to sixth on the all-time NZ heptathlon list.

The Christchurch Old Boys athlete achieved something very precious across two days of intense but fun competition, so did her performance catch Maddie by surprise?

“I’d done several PB’s in different events this year, so I knew I was in good shape but because the heptathlon is seven events over two days, it is really hard to put it all together.

“You have to expect that you will have ups and downs, so it was quite a shock to put together seven PB’s in a row (only on a technicality was it not a 200m PB).

“I’m so stoked. It was such a big jump up from the last heptathlon I did at the Australian Championships (when in April last year she set a PB of 5349pts).”

It is a performance which elevates her to a new plane. Maddie is now within touching distance of the 6000pts barrier, with the longer-term goal attacking the 32-year-old national record of 6278pts set by Joanne Henry. Given her age and scope for improvement, it is not a fanciful notion for Maddie – partner to Commonwealth Games high jump champion Hamish Kerr.

Raised in Gisborne, Maddie joined her local athletics club at the age of seven. She enjoyed the sprints and jumps but admitted her main sporting focus as a youngster was surf lifesaving, where she won national medals as a beach sprinter.

A keen footballer too, she did compete at Colgate Games, but it was only after her family relocated for a year to Christchurch while Maddie was a year 10 student, did she first consider multi-events.

“It was where I first met Terry Lomax and he suggested I give it a go. As a 16-year-old, I did a hexathlon (six events) and I remember he taught me to hurdle in the warm-up.”

Enjoying the variety of training for multiple events, in 2019 she revealed her ability when winning both the New Zealand and Oceania U18 heptathlon titles and setting a New Zealand record mark of 5179pts when winning the latter event in Townsville.

Motivated to continue her combined events apprenticeship under Terry, she relocated to Christchurch – where she started her Engineering studies – and over time she has steadily improved, claiming a number of national U20 titles in a range of individual events – 100m hurdles, shot, javelin and high jump.

In 2022 she added a national senior heptathlon silver medal to her collection posting a PB of 4949pts.

Satisfied with her progress in mid-2022 she switched to a new coach, James Sandilands, who has continued to develop Maddie.

“James is a great coach and his communication and understanding is awesome,” she explains. “He is very good at modifying the plan if I have a niggle or I am not 100 percent which is important as there is quite a bit of that as a combined eventer.”

Last year, there was clear progress. She claimed a second successive national heptathlon silver medal and at the Australian Championships advanced her heptathlon lifetime best to 5349pts.

Yet perhaps her most eye-catching performance came at the 2023 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington when she added 2cm to her lifetime best to claim silver in the women’s high jump behind fellow multi-eventer Alice Taylor.

“Leading into nationals I’d improved my high jump PB by 4cm that season (it stood at 1.78m leading into 2023). I was tired by the high jump though because I’d already done five events (at nationals) and a heptathlon the weekend before, so to jump 1.84m and for Alice, another multi-eventer, to win gold was also pretty cool.”

Juggling training with the demands of studying for a degree in Civil Engineering can be demanding and training double days three or four times a week requires both planning but also a fair amount of flexibility.

Believing her strength is the high jump – her PB of 1.86m – earns more than 1000 points – she admits there is room for improvement in her lowest-scoring events – shot and javelin.

Yet coached by James and based in Christchurch she is surrounded by quality expertise with Hayden Hall guiding her throws, where she trains alongside two-time Olympic bronze medallist Tom Walsh and 19.76m thrower Nick Palmer.

“I’ve thrown with these guys over the last year, and it is great to train with them. Tom is an amazing athlete, who is super focused and dedicated. It is cool to be in that environment.”

But perhaps the elephant in the room is what has she learned from her partner, Hamish, particularly in the high jump.

“A lot of people have asked me this question but what I have probably learned from him is the level of dedication and hard work that is required to be a top athlete. On the high jump, I don’t really know, but we do share the same coach (in James Sandilands) so that might help.”

Yet the six-million-dollar question is why the huge improvement in 2024 and for Maddie there is not a straightforward answer.

“I think it’s probably been a combination of the last three or four years of hard work and learnings around combined events and an accumulation of overcoming injuries, maturing and getting a consistent block of training behind me.

“My performance in Dunedin gives me a lot of confidence. I’ve taken a massive step to 6000pts which is a cool mark for a combined eventer. It gives me a lot of belief for what I can achieve in the future.”

Next, targeting a heptathlon at the Australian Championships in Adelaide in April, followed by what she hopes will be an appearance for New Zealand at the Oceania Championships in Suva, Fiji, the aim is to become the first Kiwi women to smash through the 6000pts barrier since Veronica Torr eight years ago.

Longer term she would “love to be involved” in the Olympic Games and World Championships but the level-headed Kiwi is not getting ahead of herself and knows she will continue to “chip away” at her PB and gradually improve.

So, in what areas does she feel she can make real gains in the future?

“The cool thing is I feel like I can improve across the board,” adds Maddie. “Getting both stronger and faster will help me in all seven events but technically the hurdles are an event I want to work on. Over the past year, James and I have focused on improving my long jump and it has really paid off with a half-metre PB. But I want to build on every event and continue to develop as a heptathlete.”

Maddie Wilson’s journey to 5990pts at the NZ Combined Events Championships.

100m hurdles – 14.55 PB

High Jump – 1.86m PB

Shot – 12.51m PB

200m – 24.67 (2.8) – her legal PB is 25.06

Long Jump – 6.05m PB

Javelin – 40.48m – PB

800m – 2:15.14 – PB