NZ: From soccer to sprinter

From football to sprint champion

By DANIEL MARKHAM - Western Leader Last updated 05:00 22/12/2009

Speedster Carl Van der Speck did not set foot on an athletics track until he was 25.

Now he is on the verge of Commonwealth and Olympic Games glory.

The South African-born sprinter conquered his adopted country by becoming national 100m champion earlier this year and has his heart set on making an impact at a major international event.

Lining up against some of the world’s fastest men would be a massive achievement for an athlete whose only involvement with sport a few years ago was kicking a ball around on a park in Te Atatu.

“I always played soccer and that was my main sporting code,” the 32-year-old says. “I was always the fastest on the pitch and would be waiting for the play all the time. I was a right winger so everyone would just kick the ball into the corner and tell me to get on my bike.”

Tearing up and down the wing soon became tedious and Carl began to think his talents could be put to better use.

“My only challenge was to beat the other player to the ball which got a bit boring after a while. So I decided to give athletics a go and haven’t looked back since.”

The switch to the track has paid off.

Carl made the New Zealand squad within a year of swapping his football boots for a pair of running spikes and has posted a string of impressive results.

As well as earning the 100m title at the nationals in March, the Te Atatu resident surprised himself by coming third in the 200m.

It’s not an event he has
put a lot of time into and the high placing was unexpected.

“The nationals were really great,” he says. “At the beginning of last season I was concentrating on the 100m and when I won that my coach said: ‘You can run the 200m as well if you want, it’s your choice’. I thought I might as well do it and see how I got on.”

He did so well that the 200m has now leapfrogged the shorter distance in terms of his priorities.

“I’m looking at having the 200m as my main event and using the 100m as a warm-up,” he says. “I’m not saying I won’t try to improve in both though, I want to get a good balance between the two. I just think I have more chance of qualifying for the Commonwealths and the Olympics in the 200m. In the 100m these days you have guys like Usain Bolt running phenomenal times – to keep up with those guys is pretty hard.”

Carl’s personal best in the 200m is 21.10 seconds and he will need to knock that down to around 20.80 to earn a spot at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.

Ad Feedback The qualifying time is yet to be officially set but Carl is aiming for 20.80 because that is the mark for the world champs.

He is not just up against the clock.

New Zealand is likely to send only a couple of sprinters to the Games and Carl faces stiff competition from a pair of runners who he regards as both his main rivals and good mates.

Carl and fellow sprinters James Dolphin and Matt Brown all belong to the North Shore-based Bays Cougars Club and must deal with a relationship that swings from being encouraging training partners to fierce opponents.

“You have to get on well. You can’t hold grudges with each other or anything like that because you have to train together,” Carl says.

"You can be best mates
at training but when it
comes to competitions it
has to be serious.

“Everyone is there to run faster than the next person but we don’t have any hard feelings – we all still come back to practice and crack jokes.”

Carl has lived in the west since coming to New Zealand as a 20-year-old but travels to the Shore for training because Bays offers the best environment.

“You have to train with the best to be the best and Bays are the biggest club in Auckland. Most of the sprinters are out there and they look after us very well.”

The van der Speck family moved to Auckland from Cape Town because they wanted a change of scene and Carl says the shift has worked out well.

“We were going to send me over first to get going but then we thought, no, we might as well just all do it together, which was a good choice. Things in New Zealand are just so good. People who live here don’t know how good they have it unless they’ve been abroad and come back.”

The family settled in Massey and Carl moved to Te Atatu with his wife Kim about three years ago when the pair got married. Kim is also a runner and was the person responsible for Carl taking to the track.

“She could see I was getting sick of playing soccer and suggested I give sprinting a go. It was basically through her that I connected with the right people to get me where I am now.”

Carl went to the last Commonwealth Games as part of the Kiwi relay team but is eager to return on his own merits. He also has his eye on the 2012 Olympics and believes he has plenty of speed left in his legs yet.

“I still think I’m getting faster,” he says. “I know a lot of other international runners that have peaked at 35 so I think I’ve probably got another four or five seasons in me. There’s no time frame for me, I’ll just keep going as long as the body holds up.”

Not wanting to be a party pooper but that was after Gofast’s athlete got dq’d (he still ran under protest and won by plenty)

From DQ to Florida State…