News & Updates

7 August 2022 • Track and Field

Sam and Keeley set dazzling PB’s to earn top six spots

(Photo: Alisha Lovrich)

The growing strength and depth of New Zealand athletics was clearly demonstrated as middle-distance star Sam Tanner and high jumper Keeley O’Hagan smashed their respective PB’s to earn top six finishes.

Sam enjoyed a sensational race to take a huge step forward in his relatively young career by carving more than three seconds from his lifetime best up against a world-class field, recording 3:31.34 to move to second on the all-time New Zealand lists for the distance.

As a measure of the quality of the performance he moves ahead of New Zealand middle-distance icons such as Sir John Walker and Rod Dixon on the all-time lists and aged just 21 he has so much more ahead of him in the years to come.

The race, which provided a wonderful climax to the morning session on the penultimate day of track and field action at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, boasted a world-class field which included three of the first four finishers from last year’s Tokyo Olympics as well as current world champion Jake Wightman of Scotland.

It was the 2019 world champion Timothy Cheruiyot who hit the front early and immediately set a ferocious pace, showing great tactical acumen Sam sensibly opted for a cautious approach preferring to take the rail and run one from the back as the Kenyan leader hit the 800m split in a searing 1:52.15.

The Papamoa middle-distance runner revealed his canny racing brain by slowly moved through the field and at the bell was placed ninth, poised and ready to make his strike. While Wightman entered the bend in the lead from Cheruiyot, Tanner accelerated clear of several of his rivals and started to gain ground on the leaders.

In a dramatic finale, Australian Ollie Hoare – a training partner of New Zealand 5000m runner here in Birmingham Geordie Beamish – produced an exhilarating late surge to edge the fading Cheruiyot to gold in 3:30.12 by a margin of just 0.09 in a new PB and Games record.

Wightman had to settle for bronze, but finishing at a great pace Sam took out a sensational sixth in a massive new PB. It was an incredible race in which eight of this first 11 either set or equalled their PB.

A euphoric Sam said: “I crossed the line and I thought I wasn’t that far off the leader! When I saw that they had run 3:30 I thought, I must have run so fast and then I looked up and saw the time. I’m stoked, really stoked. I think I must be the happiest sixth place finisher ever.

“I knew from the first 100m I was getting swamped, but I am going to stay relaxed. I had two goals to stay relaxed and be the last person to shoot my shot in the last 100m to have the last bullet in the gun. My last 100m, I would like to see the splits, but it felt like I was closing on those top guys.

“I knew if it was really fast, some athletes will burn their biscuits really early and when I was saw the first lap and it was 54 (seconds) I thought some people are going to pay for that. I was dead last (at one stage) but I just made a really long smooth move and then in the last 100m slammed it.

“It was one of those races where the 1500m felt really easy. If you run it smoothly the body is in a flow state and it was lap, lap, lap done. To run 3:31 and finish sixth in one of the most stacked Commonwealth finals – I achieved all my goals.”

Keeley O’Hagan enjoyed the greatest competition of her life, setting a new personal best of 1.89m to finish a fantastic sixth in the women’s high jump.

On the biggest stage she has ever performed in, the 28-year-old Christchurch-based jumper magnificently rose to the occasion and can be immensely proud of her efforts.

Keeley opened up with a routine first time clearance at 1.76m before she flirted with danger at her next height of 1.81m.

Struggling to find her rhythm she clattered the bar with her first two attempts and was staring down the barrel of elimination. However, showing the heart of a lion and huge courage the Kapiti Coast-raised jumper responded to the pressure in style with a very impressive third time clearance.

Looking much more relaxed, Keeley’s confidence rapidly soared and she required only one attempt at 1.85m to negotiate that height – one of eight athletes to advance.

With a PB of 1.88m dating from the New Zealand Championships in March the bar was raised to 1.89m but Keeley approached the challenge with gusto. She produced two strong fouls however the height always looked within her compass, and so it proved as she produced a brilliant third time clearance at 1.89m – a height which elevated her to joint fourth on the all-time New Zealand lists alongside Angela McKee and Trudy Woodhead.

With the bar next raised to 1.92m – which would have equalled the 31-year-old national record of Tania Murray – Keeley made a couple of impressive attempts but found that height beyond her today.

In a major shock, recently-minted world champion Eleanor Patterson, who cleared 2.02m to win gold in Eugene last month bombed out at 1.95m with Jamaica’s Lamara Distin claiming a surprise gold medal with a first time clearance at that height. Patterson, the Australian, had to settle for silver courtesy of a best of 1.92m.

Keeley said: “I’m so happy, I don’t think it has sunk in yet that I’ve managed to PB at a major champs, it is awesome. The crowd is insane. I loved it and I thought come on give me more claps! There are super supportive crowd and that really uplifted a lot of people today.”

“I was nervous and tense at the beginning, but as soon as I got 1.81m and 1.85m I felt like a weight had been removed from my shoulders – I then just let loose and had fun. I definitely had some nerve-wracking attempts around 1.81m but I managed to pull it together when I needed to.

“I knew I was capable of 1.89m, I’ve had some pretty good cracks at doing it. I’ve just reminded myself to trust my processes and backed myself and I managed to put it all together.”

On her three attempts at 1.92 she added: “I had a pretty good crack at it, so it definitely gives me confidence that next season I can get over 1.90m and 1.92m.”

The next Kiwis in action inside the Alexandra Stadium compete on Sunday morning NZ time

6am – Julia Ratcliffe and Nicole Bradley – Women’s Hammer Final

6.30am – Portia Bing – Women’s 400m hurdles final

7.10am – Geordie Beamish – Men’s 5000m final

For full results go here.