By David Leggatt

Sam Tanner admits that a few months ago the idea of getting to the Tokyo Olympics next year was ‘’a massive long shot’’.

Now the Bay of Plenty middle distance runner describes his chances of making it as ‘’fair’’.

His progress this year has been substantial, which the 19-year-old puts down to good fortune with injuries, plus working with coach Craig Kirkwood, who has him on an individualised programme, which is hitting all the right buttons.

Even so, it’s been a dramatic rise for a young man, not long out of Bethlehem College, and who only got serious about his track running in February 2017.

That was the point he decided to do something with his burgeoning talent. Until then, as he put it, he ran cross country but was reluctant to sacrifice his surfing and skateboarding. He even makes his own surfboards.

‘’I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s going so far this year,’’ he said.

‘’I’m very happy with progress. If I told myself last year that I would run this fast I’d have said ‘no way, that’s ridiculous’.’’

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Tanner, the oldest of five children, has ticked off several notable marks this year, and along the way picked up the unofficial mantle of the next Nick Willis.

He’s now New Zealand’s youngest sub-four minute miler, clocking 3min 58.41s at the Peter Snell International meet in Wanganui in March; beat double Olympic medallist Nick Willis in the 800m at the Capital Classic in Wellington in a personal best 1:49.42; became the country’s national under 19 and 20 1500m recordholder, eclipsing Willis’ mark set in 2001, with a personal best 3:43.01 -- and getting  Willis’ congratulations meant plenty to him; and produced a PB 1500m time of 3:38.74 in Seattle in June.

The Olympic qualifying mark for the 1500m is 3:35 so he still has a way to go, but Tanner is taking giant strides up the New Zealand running ladder.

He’s off to the University of Washington on August 28, and he’s relishing the prospect of being in an environment when he has training partners.

‘’My one struggle is I train solo 98 percent of the time. That’s very hard going.

‘’I’d love to stay, I love Craig’s coaching, but it’ll be awesome to have some company when I’m running.’’

He won’t be at the world championships in Doha in late September, as he hasn’t cracked the qualifying standard of 3:36. But Tokyo is a different story.

‘’3.35 as a 19-year-old would be an Oceania record, so I’d need to break that to get there. That’s almost like a good goal in itself,’’ he said.

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Tanner has been a national representative at age group athletic championships but getting to the Olympics would clearly be the pinnacle of his young career.

‘’It would be bucket list, tick; dream, tick. It was a childhood dream of mine to reach that level, so my childhood self would be so proud of me.’’

You get the idea surfing’s never far from Tanner’s mind. He finds making his own boards ‘’quite therapeutic. Some people hate it but I really enjoy it, getting in the shed and doing some sanding''.

He thinks he’ll pursue either business marketing or engineering in Washington but if he makes it to Tokyo – and he has plenty of opportunities before the qualifying period ends -- the studies might need to go on hold a while.


Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games
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