Big throw catapults Bruce into limelight

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Recordholder . . . Specialising in the hammer throw has paid off for Lauren Bruce who has shot up the world rankings. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Timaru can now claim a second world-class thrower besides former world champion shot putter Tom Walsh.

Hammer thrower Lauren Bruce (23) smashed her previous personal best of 68.14m at an Athletics New Zealand Spring Series meet in Hastings recently, with a massive throw of 73.47m.

The effort could have come as a complete surprise to many people since Bruce only started specialising in the event last October after dropping discus throwing.

However, during a brief visit to Timaru she said it was not unexpected.

“I made the decision to go for Tokyo in the hammer [the now postponed 2020 Olympic Games]. I think I made the right decision.

“We’ve known for a while that I was capable of that sort of distance. I had been tracking towards it.”

While the result was still pending, Bruce’s throw broke the New Zealand and Oceania record of 72.35m set by fellow New Zealander and reigning Commonwealth and Oceania Games champion Julia Ratcliffe in Hamilton earlier this year.

Ratcliffe’s effort has ranked her ninth in the world so far this year. Bruce had been down at 35 with her old personal best set at Sydney in February.

Bruce’s big throw in Hastings has now catapulted her to sixth in the world on this year’s performances, headed by Belarusian Hanna Malyshchyk (75.45m), and would have placed her sixth at last year’s world championships in Doha.

Covid-19 restrictions could have played a part in helping her.

“With the Olympics cancelled and instead of being overseas competing gave us the space to do all we had to do and make the best use of it. There was a bit of technical skill stuff, moving the ball better and getting stronger.”

The probability is that, all going well, New Zealand could be represented by both women at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, and a third young talent, Nicole Bradley, of Auckland, is also knocking on the door.

But to get there, Bruce has to produce a repeat effort, beating the qualifying mark of 72.50m after December 1.

Qualification was through meeting the required entry standards and then world rankings, she said.

“I’ll have to throw the distance again in December.”

Powerful .. Lauren Bruce competes for New Zealand in the women’s under-20 hammer throw during the Australian Junior Athletics Championships at Sydney Olympic Park in 2015. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

After leaving Timaru,where she was coached by Walsh’s early coach Ian Baird, in 2015, Bruce studied at Lincoln University, graduating two years ago with a bachelor of science specialising in food science.

For a time she travelled back and forth between Timaru and Christchurch, and Baird also travelled to Christchurch for coaching.

Since then, she had joined Athletics New Zealand’s high performance centre in Christchurch as part of coach Dale Stevenson’s throws squad, which includes Walsh.

Apart from some part-time work she was now a fulltime athlete.

“It’s cool having him [Walsh] around.

“I’ve known him a long time and [am] following a similar transition to Christchurch like him.

“He’s got so much experience. You can see how he trains and approaches things.”

Bruce started out as a gymnast and competed at junior national level until a back stress fracture forced a rethink and she concentrated more on athletics with the South Canterbury club.

She competed in most events and only looked seriously at the hammer, a highly technical event, on Baird’s suggestion.

She won her first national under-18 hammer title in 2013, she then competed at the Youth Olympics in Sydney, where she finished third.

Along the way she has picked up New Zealand secondary schools, Oceania under-18, junior and under-20 national titles, together with two New Zealand silver medals and one bronze medal at senior level. Ratcliffe has been setting the pace.

“Since I’ve taken her record she’ll want it back. It [the big throw] changes things.”