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Jacko Gill: ‘why I quit the Olympics’

The shot-put prodigy explains why he won’t be in London in August.

Jacko Gill doesn’t do things by halves. His 17-year old frame is massively muscled, his sense of humour wicked and his affection for his first girlfriend unrestrained. His talent is prodigious, too, but huge talent means huge decisions, such as his controversial choice to withdraw from Olympic contention after not being named in the first official team announcement.

To those who know Jacko, including parents Walter and Nerida, his resolve comes as no surprise: once he makes his mind up, he sticks to his guns. Speaking exclusively to New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, Jacko and his parents say the decision to pull out of selection for the shot put was the result of a miscommunication from Athletics New Zealand about exactly what distance he needed to throw to gain Olympic qualifi cation.

According to Jacko and Walter, the qualifying mark changed from 20.3m to 20.5m, but he wasn’t aware of the change until a week before the last meet of the season in late March. By that time, it was too late for him to change his training regime to make the new qualifying mark.

“They said they wouldn’t be naming him in the team until three weeks before the Games, and he’d already be in Europe for the World Junior Champs,” explains Walter. “The World Juniors use a 6kg shot put, the Olympics use a 7.26kg, and he would have had train with both.”

“I got mucked around this time,” says an exasperated Jacko. “It’s so different to throw the different weights. You have to base your training around both, and if I wasn’t going to be named until three weeks before, how was I supposed to train?”

The athletic prodigy wasn’t prepared to compromise his debut Olympic performance and chose instead to train hard for a Junior world record. “I didn’t want to go into the Olympics under-prepared and perform averagely and let the whole country down. I’d rather do the one good performance. I was going to choose which one I’d focus on more, but seeing as I got mucked around, I decided it would be the World Juniors.”

He’s not at all fazed by the criticism thrown his way, saying he’s following his heart – and the advice of another Olympic wunderkind. “When I met Usain Bolt, he told me all about the pressures he was under when he was a kid. He told me not to rush and to enjoy my junior years. I think I’m going to take his advice rather than some random who’s rung up talkback radio, aren’t I!” he says with a grin.

He admits he’s absolutely gutted about missing out on the Olympics, but he knows he’s done the right thing for his career. His decision is backed by Walter and Nerida, who were competitive shot putters and discus throwers in their youth.

“He doesn’t like doing things half-pie,” says Nerida. “Shot putters don’t actually peak until around 35, so he’s got a fair way to go until then,” adds Walter. Since bursting onto the athletics scene at just 13 years of age, Jacko has astounded local and international crowds.

But it took a good thrashing by a 9-year-old girl to get Jacko into competitive shot put. “You were beaten by a girl in your first competition” teases Nerida gently. “Oh yeah,” laughs Jacko. “She beat my throw by like a metre. I was like, nah, this isn’t on! That motivated me to train and get better. I can remember saying, next time, I’m gonna beat her.”

He did. Then, at 14, he outthrew another girl by the name of Valerie Vili (now Adams), who just happened to be the Olympic and world champion. In spite of his obvious talent, Jacko, who left school at the end of Year 11 to focus on his training, is quick to credit his parents for his huge success.

“They’re amazing. We’re a really close-knit family and we’re all pretty relaxed,” Jacko says. “Yeah, we do laugh at each other a lot,” adds Walter. Although Jacko’s had to weather the storm over his decision, one thing making life a little bit easier for him is a visit from his Swedish girlfriend of six months, Lovisa, who he met in 2010 at a competition in Stockholm.

“She’s great. A lot of competitions are over in Europe, so it’ll be nice to have someone over there. It’ll make my trip more exciting!” Walter and Nerida roar with laughter and Lovisa turns bright red. Lovisa proves she’s no lightweight herself, as she piggybacks Jacko around the park.

“She’s really strong, Nerida says. “We were very impressed ” Young love aside, Jacko says his focus from here on in is 100% on the World Junior Championships and his sights are firmly set on the world record. “I want these age-group records,” he says. “I’m only going to be able to go for them once, and I think it’s stupid to neglect them for something that’s going to happen when I’m older.

“And it’s going to happen. I know it is because I’m going to train like hell for it! It will happen.”

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