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Triple jumping Ethan hopes to shine in the Black Singlet
Ethan Olivier may not yet be a recognisable name to many in the New Zealand athletics community.
Yet the New Zealand U17/U18/U19/U20 record-holder has the potential to one day develop into the finest Kiwi triple jump exponent of all time and who later this year aspires to bust the medal podium at the World U20 Championships in Cali, Colombia.
Part of Ethan’s low-profile can be explained by fact the 16-year-old is based and lives in South Africa, however, his accent nor current homeland should mask his New Zealand roots. Born in Auckland he lived the first five years of his life in the East Auckland suburb of Pakuranga before his parents decided to return to the country of their birth following the death of one grandparent and to be closer to the family.
“Even though I was five when I left, I do have many memories of living in Auckland,” explains Ethan whose family arrived here after elder brother, Welre, himself a top-class triple jumper, was nine months old. “New Zealand is my country of birth and I’m delighted to be able to compete for them.”
Based in the city of Vereeniging – a 50-minute drive south from Johannesburg – it was little surprise the Olivier boys – Welre and Ethan – took up athletics and more specifically the triple jump as their father, Wikus, is a former South African triple jump record-holder with a best of 16.89m set in 1994.
Still standing third on the all-time South African triple jump rankings he finished 11th in the triple jump at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria and boasts a very handy long jump PB of 7.88m. However, although his father – who has coached him throughout his athletics career – was an influence in his decision to take up athletics his elder brother too played his part.
“I’d say I started to get involved through my brother, who started (athletics) the year before me,” adds Ethan. “My brother was a very busy child, so my mother sent him to the track to relieve some energy and give her a break.”
Curious to follow in the family footsteps, Ethan took up the sport at the age of eight and initially started out as a long jumper. However, it was not until switching to the triple jump at the age of 13 did he discover his true calling.
“I was average at long jump and not near the top competition level to medal at big meets, that only come about when I started triple jumping,” he explains. “I got bored of the long jump and enjoyed that feeling of doing something more complex. In triple jump you have to think about how you jump, you have to focus on many different things. I liked the challenge of the event. It was way more fun than the long jump.”
Training six days a week on a grass track with a sub-par tartan runway “it’s just a strip of tartan laid on top of concrete” at his local high school may not seem the best preparation but Ethan is more than happy with the arrangement.
“To be honest, I don’t need much more than a run up and a pit and a space to do speed work,” he explains.
The recipe works. Training under his father he has thrived and in 2019 competing at his first South African Championships he won a silver medal in the U15 event. Setting himself the target from that point on of jumping in metres for the triple jump to match his age ie 14m at the age of 14 15m at the age of 15. Over time he has met this ambition and he hopes it is a trend he can continue for as long as feasible.
In 2020 he won the long and triple jump double at the Gauteng Schools Championships but was denied the opportunity to compete at national championships following their Covid-hit cancellation. Meanwhile, later that year, having committed to competing to New Zealand like his older brother, Welre, he set his first New Zealand record with a 15.08m effort in Potchefstroom earning him the U17 national triple jump mark.
The next year he continued to improve, winning a bronze medal at the South African Senior Championships in Pretoria. Competing the against senior men it was some feat and his best distance of 15.54m also bettered his national U17 mark.
However, the 2022 season has proved his best yet. New Zealand U17 and U18 triple jump records tumbled with a 15.80m leap to win gold at the Gauteng Secondary Schools Championships in Germiston in early March. Two weeks later he enhanced the U17 and U18 record and added the U19 and U20 record held by his elder sibling when leaping 15.95m at the South African Schools Championships then last month he soared out 3cm further to finish second at the South African Senior Championships to maintain his record-breaking streak.
“I was both happy to the New Zealand records, but I also felt a bit bad because I took three of them from my brother,” he admits. “I also jumped 16.12m at the South African Schools Champs which would have been my national record, but they removed the wind gauge, so it couldn’t be ratified.”
There is a little doubt the family has played a huge factor in his success. His father, Wikus, is a “big influence” and Ethan believes his dad has all the qualities of a top coach.
“He’s very technical,” explains Ethan. “He noticed the tiniest thing wrong with the technique, and immediately has a solution. He looks at everything from my running style to my feet when I jump. It is not just in triple jump or long jump – in almost every sport he notices when someone is doing something technically wrong.”
His elder brother, Welre, 19, also cannot be ignored. Now jumping for the University of Northern Colorado he is a fine triple jumper in his own right, boasting a best of 15.94m – 4cm inferior to that of Ethan – so what motivation has the sibling played?
“When I was younger the only inspiration would have been to beat him and strive to be better than him,” adds Ethan. “This year has the first year I managed to beat (his mark) but I don’t think he is upset about it. He took it very well and he is happy for me.”
Ethan’s next big goal is pulling on the Black Singlet for the first time in August at the World U20 Championships in Cali, Colombia. “Hugely excited” by the prospect he also has realistic medal ambitions. He is currently ranked number four U20 in the world and boasts a PB which would have banked him a bronze medal at the most recent edition of the World U20 Championships
So what are his aims and ambitions in Cali?
“I hope to train quite hard between now and then, so I hope to possibly medal and improve my distance up to 16.50m. I believe I am a consistent athlete and I have an ability to warm up, put my shoes on and perform well week in and week out.”
Should he achieve his aim of 16.50m he will also surpass the 44-year-old New Zealand senior triple jump record of Phil Wood at 16.22m – a mark it would seem well within the compass of the athlete who only celebrates his 17th birthday in August – one day after the conclusion of the World U20 Championships.
“I’m chasing that senior record and hope to break it soon, although I hope to build on this more, so by the time I’ve finished competing the (NZ) record will be much longer than what it is now.”
For the future he hopes to follow the lead of his brother and train and study in the US. But he has not ruled out spending some time and competing in New Zealand in the future.
“My brother is thinking of living and working in New Zealand once he has finished studying,” he adds. “I feel I can do the same and hopefully I can move back to New Zealand eventually.”
Yet given his exciting potential he is right to think positively of this future in the sport – and he has set some big goals.
“I would love to win a medal at the Olympics, but the larger ambition is to jump over 18m (a mark only seven men in history have ever exceeded), although that would not be any time soon, a good few years from now,” he adds with a smile.