News & Updates

16 February 2024 • Track and Field

Seven Up – How Briana has embraced combined events

Briana Stephenson has made a quick and successful adjustment to competing in combined events. Credit: Casey Sims

Briana Stephenson will be one of the leading names on show at the 2024 New Zealand Combined Events Championships in Dunedin this weekend (17-18 February). We chat to the recent convert to combined events about her athletics journey and hopes for this weekend and beyond.

When Briana Stephenson first stepped into the multi-events world it was only initially meant to be a short-term measure.

The former national senior women’s long jump champion and 200m medallist had reached a crossroads in her athletics development in early 2022 after suffering a meniscus tear in her knee. Facing a long road to rehabilitation casually mentioned to her coach, Matthew Wyatt, that she had previously enjoyed the high jump.

Percolating these thoughts, Matthew then proposed a slightly radical approach which was to alter the entire direction of her athletics career.

“Matt said, ‘As you are getting back from injury why don’t we spread the load across your body to give you a few more things to focus on. How would you feel about training for a heptathlon?

“I said, “that would be awesome’.”

Given her all-round sprinting and jumping ability she has harboured thoughts of competing in the heptathlon but even the Hastings AC athlete has been surprised with how well it has gone.

Winning a bronze medal on her heptathlon debut with a score of 5127pts at the 2023 New Zealand Combined Events Championships has helped kick-start a love-affair for multi-events which has further developed after posting a huge personal best of 5534pts when second at the Queensland Championships in December – to climb to eighth on the all-time NZ lists.

“I loved competing in heptathlon last year and it built in me a whole new love for the sport,” explains Briana. “To learn heptathlon has been really special. I know we were initially playing around with it, but now I want to keep doing it.”

Raised about an hour south of Hastings in rural Hawkes Bay, the Napier Girls’ High School boarder showed a natural flair for sports. Joining the Central Hawkes Bay club at the age of seven she showed early sprinting ability and also featured as a talented New Zealand Secondary Schools netball player.

Yet following a demoralising ACL reconstruction in 2016 she opted to move away from netball to focus more on athletics and after heading north to study in Auckland two years later she started to emerge as a senior talent. In 2020 she posted a PB of 6.08m to secure the senior women’s national long jump title and the following year won national long jump silver and 200m bronze.

Yet injury was to put pause on her athletics career and on her return, the 1.62m tall athlete replaced singular events with seven. Working 30 hours a week as a sports co-ordinator at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School, Briana trains most days for three hours after work at Mt Smart Stadium. Combining several gym sessions a week with two morning runs the days can be tough but she has embraced the “rollercoaster ride” and reaped the rewards.

“I am very lucky to be part of a training group who also do multis, so it is nice to have others to grind through the sessions,” explains Briana. “I have really enjoyed the diversity of training for seven events. I’m having to get used to using my upper body in training (for shot and javelin) and I’ve had to adjust to having a sore arms and back. It is a balancing act combing working with training and getting all the recovery you need. They are definite challenges, but if I need a day off for competition my employers are super accommodating and at the end of the day training for combined events brings so much more fulfilment than training for one or two events.”

Juggling the training demands for multiple events has not been easy, and there has been successes but also work-on events. Briana admits the shot is a “clear weakness” as she works on best translating her leg power to the event. Yet her strongest event is surprisingly not the long jump or 200m – her pre-multi-event specialist events – but the hurdles – an event she only first training for in mid-2022.

“I’ve connected really well with the hurdles, which has been awesome,” says Briana. “To run a PB of 13.74 and get over 1000 pts (in the hurdles) at Queensland nationals was incredible. I knew I had the potential to be a good hurdler, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. We’ve really stripped it back and done a lot of work on positioning. It has taken a lot of patience and lots of ankle and knee pain hitting the hurdles, but it is now my most confident event in the heptathlon.”

Competing in her maiden heptathlon at the 2023 New Zealand Combined Events Championships in Whanganui she was pleased to put “seven events together” and claim bronze behind Christina Ryan and Maddie Wilson with a total points score of 5127pts.

Lifted by the performance and with her parents, partner and physio watching on in support, she next moved on the Aussie Championships in Brisbane where she revelled in competing in a higher quality field and secured a new PB of 5150pts in sixth.

Keen to gain more heptathlon experience last year she travelled to Europe – where she competed in both Boras in Sweden – where she finished ninth with 5087pts and later triumphed with a cumulative total of 5135pts at the Northern Ireland CE Champs in Belfast.

Her experiences overseas “fuelled the fire” for more heptathlon success and in Brisbane in December secured a near 400pt PB with a best of 5534 at Queensland Championships. Not that the performance necessarily surprised the 24-year-old.

“I was aware I was capable of 5500-5600pts, although some events were a big surprise to me,” she explains. “The aim was to run under 14 seconds for the hurdles, but I didn’t expect to run a PB of 13.74. I didn’t expect to be back in the low 24s in the 200m and I made some progress in the long jump after undergoing the third technique change of my career. I knew I was capable of that kind of form and extremely happy with that score.”

Hugely praiseworthy of the role her coach, Matt, has played in her development she now moves on to the 2024 New Zealand Combined Events Championships a very different athlete to the one that took to the track 12 months early as a heptathlon novice.

So what are her hopes and expectations this weekend?

“The goal is to win. I would like to walk away with a national title. I’m very excited for the challenge and they are a lot of other multi-eventers performing well which is super exciting. I would like to PB again and a good marker for me is 5750pts (which has previously been a Commonwealth Games B qualifier). I’m still learning a lot and trying to stay connect with many of the events, and one day I want to be up and over 6000pts.”

Beyond the weekend, Briana has a busy heptathlon schedule and plans to compete at the Australian Championships in April followed by the Oceania Championships in Fiji. She also has tentative plans to compete at the prestigious Decastar meet in Talence, France in September.

With ambitions to make World Championships and Olympic team, Briana is excited for the future and is consistently fuelled by her long-standing passion for the sport.

“I love the social aspect of the sport, as well as the fulfilment you get by working hard and achieving results,” she says.

***Follow the results at the 2024 New Zealand Combined Events via the Meet Manager App.