Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Gold-medal effort more than a walk in the park
By WAYNE MARTIN - Nelson | Wednesday, 06 August 2008
COLIN SMITH/Nelson Mail
DELIGHTED: Nelson race walker Nyle Sunderland displays the medals she won at the 2008 Oceania Masters Games in Townsville.
It's taken Nelson's Nyle Sunderland only 18 months to get in step with her new sporting career path.
That's how long she's been involved in competitive race walking but despite the relatively short time frame, last week she walked away from the Oceania Masters Games in Townsville with three gold medals.
Sunderland, 41, won gold in the women's 40-44 10km road walk and 5000m and 3000m track events, recording personal best times in both her track successes. She won the 5000m title in 29min 34sec and the 3000m in 17min 31sec, having earlier recorded 62min 36sec for the 10km event.
She was delighted with her personal best performances in the balmy 26degC temperatures.
"That was the highlight of the whole thing," she said. "You're always aiming to beat the clock and first time on the track to come away with speeds that I haven't done before was just great."
However, the 10km proved much tougher than expected.
"The 10km walk was probably the biggest disappointment, really, because that was the one I was expecting to do the best at.
"The track that we did it on was in a public garden and it was a curved walkway. So there weren't any straights, it was all snake bends with rises and dips. It had potholes in it that they'd filled with sand just before we started competing. There were huge potholes with tree roots coming out. Everyone was complaining and no one wanted to walk on it."
The tricky surface ultimately took its toll.
"Unfortunately, I injured my leg halfway through by standing in one of the sink holes. My heel went into the sand and over-extended so I pulled my knee but still managed to finish.
"The first 5km, I did 30 minutes, which was almost my time for the track so I was on track to do a really good time - then I hurt my knee."
While the injury didn't affect her track events, the judging was stringent, with six judges situated around the 400m track. However, Sunderland's sound technique meant she completed all her events without mishap.
Formerly a competitive triathlete, Sunderland switched to walking less than two years ago.
"At one triathlon I saw a race walker and thought, `I want to do that, they can go fast'."
She credited technical advice from experienced Nelson team-mate Sharon McDonald and coach Stephen Farquhar, and the support of her husband, Shane, for her successful transition - and plenty of hard work, involving training six days a week for seven weeks prior to Townsville. It left her in the best possible physical condition.
"I was very confident. I'm fitter now than I've ever been in my entire life and I've just turned 41 so who knew?"
Besides her three gold medals, Sunderland ended the competition on an unusual note when she was invited to compete in the 4x100m sprint relay, ultimately helping her team to the silver medal. She also ran the final 200m leg in the team medley, resulting in a bronze medal.
It was a refreshing release from all the previously intense scrutiny.
"As a walker and having all that constraint, to be able to stretch out and run like the wind was awesome."
She's competing in the 10km Swann Trophy walking race up the Maitai Valley on Saturday but her focus is already shifting to the national championships in March and the World Masters Games in Sydney in October 2009.
And after Townsville, she feels like the best is yet to come.
"Watch this space," she quipped.