News & Updates

29 June 2022 • Track and Field

Patience a virtue for multi-eventer Max

Max Attwell in action at the Oceania Athletics Championships 2022 in Mackay (Photo: Casey Sims)

Perhaps few athletes better exemplify the virtues of persistence and resilience than Max Attwell.

For the past eight years the Christchurch-based multi-eventer has demonstrated admirable patience and perseverance during his time in the sport. But thanks to a deep-seated love of athletics and a never-say-die spirit he has never given up in his desire for self-improvement and at the Oceania Area Championships in Mackay earlier this month he was rewarded with a gold medal and a stunning new personal best of 7635pts to elevate him to sixth on the all-time New Zealand decathlon rankings.

“The PB was a huge one for me coming back from injury,” explains Max, who tore his left Achilles when competing in the pole vault at the 2021 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships.

“I knew I was capable (of such a score), but to do the performance was huge.”

Born in Levin, it was during his time as a boarding student at Whanganui Collegiate when he was first introduced to athletics. A representative hockey player, the 11-a-side team sport was his primary focus throughout high school. However, when his school was looking for potential pole vaulters he jumped at the chance and the move triggered a new sporting path for the then 17-year-old.

“One of the school’s main sports is athletics and I think at that time Alec McNab (athletics coach) was looking for someone to fill in for the pole vault,” explains Max. “He suggested to a few of us try it. We played around by vaulting on the high jump mats. I love it straight away.”

However, given the school’s rich athletics tradition and how students are encouraged to try most track and field events in house competitions he found he enjoyed most disciplines. With a natural aptitude for running and jumping he opted to train as a multi-eventer and on his decathlon debut in 2014 he claimed silver at the New Zealand U20 championship before later that year striking gold in the eight-event octathlon at the Oceania Junior Championships in Rarotonga.

Encouraged by his early multi-event experiences he quit hockey after leaving school to focus on athletics and went one better the next year by winning the New Zealand U20 decathlon title. In 2015 he relocated to Christchurch to study mechanical engineering at the University of Canterbury and it was on arrival to the Garden City when he hooked up with his current coach, Terry Lomax. Over the past seven years he has enjoyed input from a range of coaches including Dale Stevenson, Kim Mickle and Hayden Hall for throws, Jeremy McColl for pole vault and since former New Zealand 110m hurdles champion James Sandilands came board as an assistant coach to Terry, Max believes his hurdling has taken a giant leap forward.

However, at the core of his coaching programme is Terry, who has served as a huge influence for Max.

“It was Terry that opened the door for me to seriously train as a performance athlete,” he explains. “He put together a structured training programme, a detailed plan and clear goal setting. He is very good on the finer details.”

After moving into to the senior ranks in 2016 he has continued to work with typical diligence and patience and the following year he completed the New Zealand and Oceania decathlon double, achieving the latter success in Fiji with a PB of 6975pts.

In 2018 he smashed through the 7000pts barrier for the first time, accumulating a total of 7055pts at the Canadian Championships and in 2019 he took another giant leap forward to place fourth at the World University Games in Naples behind gold medallist and fellow Kiwi Aaron Booth with a PB of 7420pts.

“It was my first major international competition, and I didn’t really go in with too many expectations,” explains Max.

“For me to finish fourth and Aaron to win was exciting and heaps of fun. It was cool to cheer on Aaron. But during a competition I try not to focus too much on where I am in the competition. I just keep to the processes rather than worry about the numbers too much.” 

Since completing his degree in mechanical engineering he has since taken on a computer science degree at the University of Canterbury – a move which has allowed him to fit around the demands of training an average of three hours a day as a decathlete.

Training alongside the likes of New Zealand high jump champions Hamish Kerr and Keeley O’Hagan has been a huge inspiration and as a flat-mate of Hamish – he has seen first-hand the development of the World Indoor high jump bronze medallist into a world-class athlete.

“We are pretty close, and it has been awesome to see his progress,” explains. “It is such a great environment to train in. Everybody is there to take it seriously, but also to enjoy themselves as well.”

So does Hamish offer good advice?

“A little, yes, but it is more the discussions we have and bouncing ideas off one another,” he adds.

A four-time senior New Zealand decathlon champion, Max has long had a reputation as one of his country’s pre-eminent combined eventers and given the demands of the event has been surprisingly physically robust.

However, after tearing his Achilles in Hastings at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in March last year he faced the first serious injury of his career and was side-lined for the best part of nine months.

“I couldn’t really walk much for six months and only got back into full training at the end of last year,” he explains. “I was gutted to miss the national combined events champs which were part of the main track and field champs, it looked such good fun.”

He competed in his first decathlon in late-March at the Auckland Combined Events Championships at Mt Smart Stadium, where he scored a solid 7120pts to claim victory. But since then, he has continued to improve and after enjoying a “great training block” targeted a score of around his previous PB of 7420 at the Oceania Area Championships.

Yet fuelled on adrenaline he recorded the fastest 100m of his life 11.03 (+2.4m/s) before following it up with a long jump PB of 7.31m to make a hugely encouraging start to the decathlon in Mackay. A solid shot was followed by a 1.92m high jump (Max’s PB is 2.05m but high jump is an event he has struggled with since returning with injury), before his day climaxed with another PB – this time a 48.06 400m.

Elated with his first day performance he had to, however, quickly re-set.

“I had to try and keep control of my emotions and get ready for the next day,” he recalls.

A slick 110m hurdles of 15.84 (+1.8m/s)– within 0.06 of his lifetime best – recorded just four days earlier at the pre-event meet in Mackay represented an excellent start to day two. A solid discus was then followed by a pole vault PB of 4.80m before he threw 48.70m in the javelin – just under 2m down on his lifetime best.

In the final event – the 1500m – he trailed long-time leader Alec Diamond by a large margin which equated to around 30 seconds – so how aware was Max of this when he was on the start line?

“To be honest, I didn’t think too much about Alec because I have no control over what the other guy was going to run, I just try and focus on what I do,” he explains.

“I had set my mind on 4:25 because I knew that push me to score over 7600pts. The Kiwis really cheered me around the track on that last lap and really pushed me home.

“To run a PB (of 4.20.59) was awesome. I had a rough idea of what I needed to run in order to be even with the other guy (Diamond). It was only after I was lying on the ground shattered at the end of the race I looked up, saw him cross the line, and looked at my watch did I think, I’ve got this.

“To win my second Oceania title was awesome but to set the PB was a huge one for me, particularly after coming back from injury. It was great to be able to perform with the guys again.”

With only one paper remaining in his computer science degree, Max acknowledges he will need to shift away from life as a student into the world of work in the near future. And while that may create additional pressures on his training, the 25-year-old decathlon has absolutely no intention on slowing down in pursuit of his athletics ambitions?

“I know there are areas I could have done better in Mackay and I will strive to get that consistency and continue to work on improving that little bit every day,” he adds. “I enjoy all the different types of training for a decathlon – and it is that enjoyment which has motivated me through the harder times.”