miércoles, 14 de diciembre de 2011

Jacko Gill: the Building of a Champion

Jacko Gill at the family residential property in Devonport
              Are you a lucky parent with a kid who excels in all kind of sports? Would you like to guide this genius so he can become a future champion but you do not know how to start? Then maybe you can learn some lessons from here. There is Jacko Gill, a shot putter from New Zealand not 17 years old yet, who is predestined to cause one day in his event a similar shock to the one Usain Bolt produced at Beijing Olympics. Actually he already broke the Jamaican runner record as the youngest athlete ever to win a gold medal at the World Junior Championship with only 15 years and 7 months of age. (1) Jacko also shares with Bolt the distinction of being the only man in the sport who has followed up a global junior victory with another one in the youth category, which he achieved last July in Lille. (2) Rules did not allow the hopeful New Zealander competing at Daegu World Championships, despite having met the B standard, but he is ready to deliver a major upset at London Olympics, where he is also going to become the youngest thrower in the history of the Games. For this purpose he landed the 7.26 kg senior implement at a distance of 20.38 last week, which is a new personal best, a new national record and the longest throw in his age category. However, Jacko Gill was only half-happy with his London qualifying result, objecting his technique was very bad. The new shot put ace always want more... 
             And how is the building up of this precocious champion? All his close family are accomplished sportsmen. Father Walter Gill was twice a national champion at the shot put discipline back in the eighties and his wife Nerida also won the title at the discus. Finally, the older sister Ayla is a hammer specialist who is studying at Texas University. She got the 6th place in Moncton, when his brother became world junior champion. The progenitors soon discovered their son have inherited all the best family genes and made him practise all kind of sports from soccer to basketball, karate or boxing; yet excluding deliberately rugby, because they did not want Jacko to join the All Blacks but to follow their steps on the athletic field circle. The parents did not need to force him too much. One day, the Gill’s 11-year-old kid told daddy he intended to do a shot put marathon; that is to see how many attempts he could manage with the shot in the time a marathon runs. After a couple of hours of throwing he required some plasters for his damaged tip fingers and kept still putting for about 60 minutes. It is worth to say his best throw of the day was not reached until the 268th effort! To say he is fanatical about his sporting passion is bordering on understatement. Suffice to remember, when the son was misbehaving, the father used to punish him forbidding throwing for a week, instead of locking the videogames as it would be normal for a boy of his age. (3)  

Jacko Gill Training (Vimeo) from JoséNunoJacko on Vimeo.

              Since Jacko was 10, he and his father used to check thoroughly on the Internet the records achieved by the best putters of his age. The New Zealand youngster never had rivals at his level on the other side of the computer. Always to facilitate further progression, the dining room was changed in a weight room and a large area in a corner of the garage was conditioned to become a big gym. Small accidents may happen: a mislead ball landed straight into dad’s 1956 Buick convertible and fluorescent lights are smashed now and then but this is not big deal. (4) The motivated son wakes up every day around noon and practises some six-seven hours a day, divided in three demanding sessions. Up to 3 or 4 in the morning, Jacko can still be relentlessly lifting weights or bounding up and down the interior stairs, sometimes awaken his parents and scaring the dog outside, but this is just a small price to pay for the brightest future. (5) In an age boys are normally thinking in fun, the young Gill is totally focused in his shot put targets, not fearing stress or injuries. His only other hobbies are fishing and take care of his pet lizards, blue tongues and bearded dragons, all of them prehistoric; appropriate for someone who devotes himself to the ancient athletic discipline with an old school spirit.  Friends come to the house but there is a moment they know it is time to leave the “genius” alone. Soon school became incompatible: first Jacko obtained special concessions from his teachers but last year it was decided he would quit altogether studying to concentrate in his training. The Kiwi kid is training in the toughest possible fashion to become the best and at the same time, helped by nutritionists, is eating like a horse. Thus he has become much bigger, stronger and faster: he has added 12 kg in bulk this season and can bench-press 195 kg; around 30-40 kg more than in the beginning of 2011. Specialists say he has achieved in the last two years what usually takes ten. Because of this outstanding improvement, the Gill family receives periodical visits of drug testers, which they qualify as "a compliment." Also New Zealand Athletics has realised about the hopeful's potential and is investing good money in financing a part of his expenses.
             It is remarkable Jacko Gill is really light in comparison to the typical shot putter. He is 1.90 tall and only slightly superior to 100 kg. Even last April as he threw for the first time 20 metres he was just 96, defying odds which estimated it was impossible for someone below 100 kilos to break that barrier. World Champion in Berlin Christian Cantwell’s height is over 2 metres and his weight is near 140 kg and most of the best known putters fit in the same mould. Gill seem to be rewriting the rules of the discipline: from now on it is not only necessary strength but also speed and agility. The New Zealander has run the 100 metres in 11.5, can long jump 6.20 and high jump 1.55 standing, something unlikely in the specialty, before his arrival. It is his special weapon in competition and he do not forget to always alternate in training weight lifting with speed and agility drills for arms and legs. Gill dreams of help become the shot put event in an elegant and beautiful discipline in which David can beat the giant Goliath. Now the putters should attract masses as sprinters or distance runners do and he is already paving the way making public his spectacular workouts on the Internet.
            It is also worth of mention the young prodigy is almost self-coached. French Daniel Poppe, who also worked with Valerie Adams, is his official coach but he acts only as an advisor. Sometimes the former javelin specialist comes around in Gill’s house or the athlete join him at the Millenium stadium but most of the time Jacko works on his own, using Poppe’s lessons, along other information he collects through his computer, and other valuable helps as the late legendary weightlifter Graham May, who wrote for him a program of training and Nigel Avery, who taught him basic lifting techniques. (5) Jacko believes in his own capacity of decision and independence and prefers training alone: “I like to train, not talk.” (4) In the end it is a question of mentality and it is where Gill start to make the difference. He is determined, confident and focused as no teen of his age is and it allows him to maintain his seven hours of hard training and keep pushing. When competition is near he builds himself mentally for the moment to get extra energy of his body. (6) In words of Walter Gill “the atmosphere is unbelievable. The look on his face… It is uncomfortable to be around.” (4)  

Jacko Gill, showing his shot putting technique

              Jacko Gill progression is being meteoric and some are already launching predictions about the precise moment the Kiwi is going to smash the 21 year-old Randy Barnes 23.12 world record. Gill reached the 20 metres mark with the 5 kg youth implement two years ago in Timaru; he needed 7 more months to achieve it with the 6 kg junior shot in Moncton; and only 9 months later he had done it with the senior one. (7) With his awesome 20.01, last April Gill broke the New Zealand overall record, which had been set by Les Mills no less than 44 years ago. Besides, he also got the goal of becoming the youngest putter ever in breaking the 20 metres barrier, beating another former teen prodigy, Michael Carter by 2 years and 7 months. At the same time he threw beyond the best mark for a 17-year-old, who owned no less than Olympic champion in Montreal Udo Beyer. It was also worth to see his groundbreaking performance at Lille World Youth Championship, where he established the new World record with 24.35, leaving his next rival exactly 4 metres behind. Just another athlete had gone beyond 23 metres before, yet Gill produced the 24 metres distance in three occasions during the final. Only the junior record with the 6 metres shot had resisted for the moment the ambitious Jacko. World Champion David Storl keeps the top all-time position with 22.73, while the New Zealander is second 42 centimetres behind. However he will still be a junior for two more seasons.
            All are praises for the new track and field phenomenon, starting by the man who lost his long standing record Les Mills: “Jacko is the complete package. He is explosive, is extremely well coordinated, has excellent technique and an amazing attitude for someone so young.” (3)  He goes further stating he could be to New Zealand what Peter Snell was in the sixties, and do not forget the three times Olympic champion Snell was chosen by the prestigious Track and Field magazine best athlete of the decade. Interestingly, a country which used to excel in distance running could soon win global titles in shot put simultaneously in women with Valerie Adams and men with Jacko Gill. Dave Wollmann, one of the most respected throw coaches in USA said he had never seen anything remotely like it in 35 years and believes Gill could do to shot putting what Bob Beamon did to long jump. (3) Statisticians have calculated the New Zealander will smash the record Randy Barnes set just before being banned by massive steroids use, by the time he will be 27 or sooner. Only coach Didier Poppe is cautious, stating nothing can be took for granted and we do not know if can come a day Jacko Gill reach a level he can not improve over anymore or finish being a case of burn-out for all the energy he has been generously expending in his teen years. (8)       
            Nonetheless, for the moment Poppe and the athlete itself think the 21 metres are a reasonable target in the Olympic season. The day Gill threw 20.38, his technique was not the best possible and even in the warm-up he had delivered 20.70 meter long throws. A 21 metres mark would put the young New Zealander in contention for a medal in London, which he already stated in Lille was his immediate target, and we know about his determination and mental strength when it matters most. For the Olympics, all the classic shot putters in the last couple of years, Cantwell, Hoffa, Nelson, Mikhnevich, Majewski, Armstrong, Bartels… will be there and also the amazing David Storl, who surprised everybody winning the gold medal in Daegu at 21 years of age, throwing 21.78. The younger generation is already taking over from the old guard. Among them are Storl, Gill, and also American Ryan Whiting and Polish Krzysztof Brzozowski, the man who upset Jacko at the inaugural Olympic Youth Games last year. We expect the arrival of a new golden era for the shot put event with clashes for the ages.

Jacko Gill, a babe among the brutes
Picture by Lawrence Smith