News & Updates
Mitch puts tough period behind him to post a national and a world record
Mitch Joynt has endured a challenging past couple of years but he 27-year-old sprinter is confident of better times ahead after a national and world record-breaking domestic campaign. Steve Landells found out more.
Since setting a national record for the men’s 200m T64 at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships, Mitch Joynt has had all manner of challenges thrown his way.
Injury, the pandemic and the heartbreak on missing out on a ticket for the Tokyo Paralympics have made for a difficult few years for the 27-year-old from the Hibiscus Coast.
However, showing great resilience and perseverance he has re-emerged this season in the form of his life, smashing his national 100m T64 record, a puff a wind away from achieving the same feat in the 200m T64 event and climaxing his year with a cheeky world record in the 800m T64 – a non-Paralympic event.
Born and raised on a livestock farm in Kaipara Flats north of Auckland, Mitch grew up a sport-mad youngster. He played hockey, rugby and was a keen snowboarder an excelled in the sport of archery – winning a world junior title at the age of 15.
However, nine years ago when Mitch was aged just 17 injuries sustained in an industrial accident led to a below the knee amputation which turned his life upside down.
Taking up athletics in late-2017 just years later Mitch featured for his country at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai. There the rookie sprinter impressed to not only reach the final of the men’s 200m T64 – where he posted a national record of 23.65 – but he also set an Oceania record of 12.40 in the 100m T64.
Coming off the back of such an exciting international championship debut performance, it was logical thoughts raced to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, however in late-2019 he was forced to undergo surgery on his ankle.
“Five or six years ago I broke by ankle, so I have quite a few platinum screws in there,” he explains. Since then, I’d lost quite a bit of mobility which caused bone spurs to grow and the surgery was needed to remove them.”
The surgery proved both a blessing and a curse. The procedure has allowed for much greater mobility, however, the pain in the ankle has intensified – which requires a lengthy warm up to allow Mitch to run.
Despite his post-surgery challenges he performed well at the 2020 New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Christchurch – recording a pair of wind-aided time of 12.29 (3.2m/s) for the 100m and clocked 23.70 for the 200m (2.2m/s).
Shortly after the country went into lockdown because of the global pandemic and this too presented its challenges. Without access to a track training was “tricky.” Forced to run on a rugby field – a grass surface is far from ideal for running with a carbon fibre blade – was not his preferred option.
The later lockdowns and with access to a track did not hamper his training in the same way and in 2021 he posted a national 100m record of 11.97 at Mt Smart Stadium and at the 2021 New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hastings he produced a similar 200m performance to the previous year, clocking 23.87 (2.4m/s).
Nonetheless, starved of overseas opportunities, Mitch’s development stalled and was unable to post the times which would have secured selection for the Tokyo Paralympics.
“I just missed out on Tokyo by the skin of my teeth,” admits Mitch. “Para selection usually works that the first five ranked athletes in each event make it automatically with the remainder then invited from other countries – often from smaller countries that have qualified fewer athletes.
Mitch pleaded his case for selection before facing what he describes a “brutal six-week period” waiting for a late invite, which could have theoretically arrived as late as three days before his event.
Heartbreakingly for the Kiwi the call never came “his dreams ripped away.”
“Not to go to Tokyo was probably one of the hardest periods of my athletics career, maybe even my life,” explains Mitch, who works as a truck driver. “To have that carrot dangled and have it dragged out for six weeks made it even more painful. From a training standpoint too, you are in limbo because you want to train during those six weeks because you have to be prepared to peak but then if you don’t go it is a waste of six weeks training.”
Thankfully, Mitch had a strong support network to help him through this mentally taxing period. His wife, Olivia, was a rock. His training group also played their part, while watching his friends in the New Zealand Paralympic team compete last year in Tokyo also aided the recovery process.
“I’m friends with a lot of the para-athletes (on the New Zealand team) and basking in their success helped,” he says.
Mitch pressed the reset button and focused his attention on making the 2022 World Para Championships in Kobe, Japan. However, the North Harbour Bays was dealt another blow following their cancellation late last year and he once more had to mentally refocus.
His domestic campaign for the 2021-22 season started later than anticipated following more ankle issues – which meant a compressed build-up of “11 or 12” races in a three-week period. He started out with a fairly modest 25-second 200m performance but by the time he reached nationals he was in great shape he enjoyed a memorable 2022 New Zealand Track & Field Championships.
In the 100m he trimmed 0.11 from his national T64 record with an 11.86 clocking – testament to the extra work he and his coach, Hamish Meacheam, have put into his blocks work.
“My 100m times have come dramatically. In Dubai (at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships) I was running 12.4. This season I’ve been running consistently low 12s or sub-12s, even though the 200m is the main event we target.”
In his speciality 200m he recorded a blistering 23.17 – which would have been a little under half-a-second from his national record time but for the slightest puff of wind as a 2.1m/s wind reading – only 0.1m/s above the allowable limit – denied him the record.
“I knew I could run those times, my training as shown me that. We were confident coming into nationals and I knew it was a quick time as I crossed the line. Then when I heard the wind I became a bit deflated. It was a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions but once I’d thrown my toys out of the pram, I realised what I had achieved was pretty impressive and a big step in my career. I know if I compete outside of New Zealand against better competition I can run even faster.”
His next immediate international focus is the Oceania Championships in Queensland in June followed in the longer term by the 2023 World Para Athletics Championships in Paris and the 2024 Paralympic Games, which are also held in the French capital.
Whatever happens in the future, in the present he is in the form of his life, so what factors have contributed to Mitch’s excellent shape.
“I’ve worked a lot more on my strength in the gym and also on my technique to the point where now I feel pretty proficient technically,” he adds. “Another factor has been able to build strength while staying light. I’m still not good enough out of the blocks but we have worked on and improved in that area too.”
The New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hastings did not provide the end point of his season. He performed well over 100m to run 11.97 at the Night of 5s in Auckland before he concluded his domestic campaign by making his 800m debut.
“I’d been nagging my coach for a while to do it,” explains Mitch. “It is not an Olympic event, and it only had a World Para Athletics standard for a world record, but I used to do long-distance running (he completed the 2017 Auckland Marathon) and I went for it.
Aiming for the World Para Athletics world record of 2:35.26 he completed the two laps of Mt Smart Stadium on March in a time of 2:17.22 to create his slice of history.
“On the Thursday before I tried to get my pacing right, but it is not easy on blades because they are designed to accelerate, so I had to practise holding myself back. We aimed in the race for a 62-second first lap, but that plan fell to pieces after I went through 400m in 59 seconds. I then just had to grit my teeth and hang on. I had a strong headwind down the back straight on the second lap but to get the world record is a nice feather in my cap. It is not that competitive an event globally, but it is cool to be a world record-holder – not many people can say that.”
He has not ruled out more end-of-season 800m outings in the future but his main focus is targeting the 100m and 200m T64 sprints – the two Paralympic events in his classification – where he still holds some big ambitions.
“I’d love to wear the Black Singlet again and represent NZ – that’s what I do this all for,” he adds.