Channel Interview: Jacko Gill, World Champion Shot Putter
Jacko Gill London's Calling
They say that true champions are very single-minded. You only have to spend a few minutes with World Champion shot putter Jacko Gill to understand why he is a champion and why many believe he will go all the way.
In October 2010, Jacko Gill received both the North Harbour Club AIMES Sport and Supreme Awards and $20,000 to help him achieve his lofty goals. These awards followed him winning gold at last year’s World Junior (under-20) Championships in Canada at the age of 15, when he threw a 6kg shot 20.76m.
Jacko Gill cannot be accused of courting the limelight or publicity. It is obvious that it is not high on his list of priorities. To organise this interview, I rang his home phone number and got hold of his mother Nerida and made the request. She said she would talk to Jacko and see if he was keen. I got the feeling that quite often he is not. I asked if I should ring him on his mobile. To which his mum replied that he never has it on. A couple of days later, Nerida called back and said that Jacko would love to have a chat.
I ventured down to Jacko Gill’s training base in Devonport on a Friday afternoon in mid-November. The base is actually the Gill family home at Devonport, which is elevated and overlooks central Devonport and East out to North Head. I knock on the front door of the large home and am welcomed in by Nerida Gill, who apologises that Jacko is having a bath and won’t be too long. As you enter the front door, you can see that the large room on the right is set up for weight training. It was obviously once a lounge or family room but is now a training room full of massive weights.
A short time later, Jacko enters the room and says a quiet hello. At first you would describe Jacko as shy and reserved, but you soon realise that he is very friendly and happy to chat. It is easy, also, to lose sight of the fact that this lad is still only 16 years old (he turns 17 on December 20th). He also looked quite a bit bigger and bulkier than I remember him when he received his AIMES Awards a year ago.
At the end of 2010, Jacko decided to leave school and focus entirely on training to achieve his sporting goals. This training, and the related diet, has resulted in him putting on 12kgs in bulk during 2011. The training revolves around him becoming bigger, stronger and faster. His strength has increased dramatically. He can now bench press 195kg, around 30-40kg more than he could at the start of the year.
The amazing aspect is that Jacko Gill is doing most of this on his own. It is clear that he doesn’t mind his own company and is just totally focussed on doing the necessary hard work to achieve his end goals. Nothing’s going to stand in his way of getting to where he wants to be – number one in the world. This appears to be a common trait in champions who compete in ‘individual sports’. They can quite often be a bit different in their approach which actually equates to the “single-minded dedication to success”. Olympic gold medal board sailor and 2009 Supreme AIMES Award winner Tom Ashley is another example.
Jacko does virtually all of his weight training at home and sets his own training programme from advice he receives and the research he is constantly doing online. Once or twice a week, he will meet his coach Didier Poppe for a session at the Millennium. Otherwise he is on his own.
2011 has not been a year of lots of competing or travelling for Jacko Gill. It has been mainly training. But he has continued to break records.
In March, at the New Zealand National Championships in Dunedin, he reset world records for both the 6kg Shot Under 18 and Under 20 Men. Gill achieved 21.34 metres with the 6kg shot. During April, Gill threw 20.01 metres with the senior (7.26kg) shot. This throw broke the 44-year-old New Zealand national record set by Les Mills in 1967. It also meant he surpassed the standard for the 2011 Athletics World Championships. However the rules for that competition exclude anyone of Jacko’s age competing in any throwing events. An appeal to the IAAF to allow Gill to compete was rejected. Jacko believes he’ll be able to throw 21 metres with the 7.26kg shot before the end of the year. Jacko destroyed his older athletics peers again in winning Gold in Lille at the World Youth Championships in early July. He beat his own world age group record by nearly half a metre with his longest throw of 24.35 metres. Second place-getter Tyler Schultz of the United States was exactly four metres shorter with his best throw, as the 12-strong field trailed in the wake of the phenomenal North Shore athlete. Such was Jacko’s dominance; the worst of his six throws was still 1.6 metres further than Schultz.
If Jacko Gill’s plan all comes together, at 17 he will be the youngest thrower to ever compete at the Olympics in London next year. The world senior record is 23.12 metres but 21 metres should be good enough to make the final at London next year. But he has had to overcome some obstacles due to his age. The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) rejected Gill’s bid for dispensation to compete at the Senior World Championships in Korea during August – there are age restrictions on throwing events and Gill is too young to compete – but London is his main aim.
The week we talked to Jacko was during a “freshen up” period, but for eight to nine months of the year his training is full on. When he is in full training, an average day could be described as “a bit different”. Jacko is inclined to sleep right through the morning and wake just before midday. After a meal he will lift weights for 2-3 hours while eating something every 30-40 minutes – protein shakes, snacks etc. There will be two of these intense weight training sessions a day. In between, he will do drill sessions, focusing on arms and footwork speed, in the training room that’s set up in the large basement of the Gill residence. It’s a big day, with Jacko finally getting to bed around three or four in the morning.
“It is not unusual for Walter and me to be woken in the wee hours of the morning by Jacko doing weights or undertaking a drill session,” says Nerida Gill with a chuckle.
During these intense training periods, Jacko eats like a horse. He has been assisted with his diet by nutritionist Gavin Clerkin through Athletics New Zealand. Also included in the diet are protein shakes and supplements aimed at building muscle.
So what gives Jacko Gill his drive?
“From a very young age it is what I’ve wanted,” says Jacko. “There has really only been one option for me and that is to be the best. I have been very lucky that my parents have supported me by funding my trips, and others have helped considerably as well.”
Jacko also mentions coach Didier Poppe and legendary weightlifter, the late Graham May, who wrote a weights programme for Jacko prior to his death. Others to play important parts, have been Nigel Avery, who taught him weight lifting techniques such as “the snatch” and “clean and jerk”, early coach Courtney Ireland and family friend Angus Cooper.
“Athletics New Zealand have been wonderful, with funding that enables me to compete around the world,” adds Jacko Gill. “The AIMES Award money from the North Harbour Club has also been very helpful over the past 12 months, as has the support from local North Shore company Integria who provide me with most of my supplements.”
The AIMES Award money, which Jacko says has not all been spent, has assisted with training equipment (including a leg press) and in enabling him to train full time during 2011.
To relax, Jacko Gill spends quite a bit of time on the internet. He enjoys Facebook and communicating with athletes he has met all over the world. He is also known to go fishing from time to time and loves boxing training for a bit of variety.
While these days he concentrates on athletics, he was good enough at both soccer and basketball to be in Harbour rep teams and enjoys watching all sports.
So what does the future hold for Jacko Gill?
“The London Olympics next year are my main focus at the moment. In 2013, it will be the World Championships and then in 2014, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Throwers can throw until they are 35-40 so I have quite a few years left and I am also keen to compete in the IAAF Diamond League regularly during my career. Coaching may also be an option one day.”
The Diamond League is an annual series of lucrative professional track and field meetings organised by the IAAF. During 2011, there were 14 meetings held between May and September, in such locations as Qatar, China, Italy, United States, Norway, Switzerland, France, United Kingdom, Monaco, Sweden and Belgium.
I finished the chat by asking Jacko Gill about some of his favourites...
Favourite Food: Chips and dip.
Drink: Milkshakes and Juicies – I can’t have any caffeine.
TV: Sport and Sky’s Channel 71 (Crime Investigation).
Movie: I like older movies – Rocky, The Godfather etc.
Reading: Newspapers, magazines.
Sports team: All Blacks and Liverpool (football).
Holiday in New Zealand: Russell in the Bay of Islands.
Holiday overseas: Stockholm, Sweden – where athletics is like rugby is in New Zealand.
Favourite place in North Harbour area: Devonport – I love it!