New Zealand shot putter Jacko Gill speaks to Olympic.org about how a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games continues to inspire him as he continues his comeback from a rare heart condition.
At the age of 15, Jacko Gill headed to the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Singapore 2010 with high hopes of winning gold in the men’s shot put. Less than a month earlier, he had been crowned the youngest ever men’s world junior athletics champion, having beaten throwers three years older than him at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Canada, and was widely expected to add to his medal tally in Singapore.
But a huge world youth best of 23.23m with the 5kg shot saw Poland’s Krzysztof Brzozowski clinch a surprise gold, with Gill settling for silver after a personal best of 22.60m.
The Kiwi used that disappointment to spur him on to even greater heights, however, as he went on to surpass Brzozowski’s world youth best with the 5kg, as well as setting new marks with the 6kg and 7.26kg shots and claiming the 2011 world youth title. Despite qualifying for the Olympic Games London 2012, Gill chose to successfully defend his world junior crown at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Spain in 2012, eventually making his Olympic debut at Rio 2016. A foot fracture hampered his performance in Rio as he finished ninth, but far worse was to follow in late 2017, when he was diagnosed with myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart, usually caused by a viral infection. After following doctors’ orders to step away from training for a year in order to recover, Gill is now on the comeback trail and eyeing another crack at an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo next year…
Q. What are your memories of the YOG Singapore 2010?
A. Just being young and loving what I was doing. There was a real camaraderie among the athletes there and it was good fun. I loved it. The whole experience just left me wanting more, so that was the start of the passion, I guess. It meant a lot to go overseas and be around other athletes who were like-minded and wanted to succeed. It was inspiring and definitely helped me make it to the Olympic Games.
Q. Were there any particular moments from that you stick out for you?
A. Definitely receiving the haka from the rest of the New Zealand team. Whenever someone won a medal, the team would welcome them back into the Village with the haka. That was very special; definitely one of the highlights of my trip and a nice way of celebrating.
Q. What was it like, at the age of just 15, to be able to compete in an Olympic event?A. It was massive. I had a dream of going to the Olympic Games from when I was five years old, when our teacher at primary school asked us what we wanted to do when we grew up. I said I wanted to go to the Olympic Games, so that was my dream and what I always wanted to do. Singapore gave me my first taste of that, and I loved it. To achieve that at 15 years old was massive. It really helped and provided that stepping stone to the senior level.
Q. Were you happy to come away with a silver medal?
A. To get a silver medal was good, but I was a little bit disappointed I didn't get the gold. But it was almost the perfect competition because it made me hungry for more. So the silver meant that I really wanted the gold, and I trained really hard to get revenge on the guy who beat me.
Q. How did your career develop after your experiences in Singapore?
A. I really wanted to get to that next level. Once I got a taste of it, I realised that's what I wanted to do. It really did inspire me a lot. I then put a massive focus on being the best in the world, not coming second. I wanted to be the best. So I ended up winning the Under-20 World Championships twice and I would love to win the senior World Championships now. So it definitely did inspire, and it really helped me achieve a lot in the junior grades, as second place wasn't really good enough to me.
Q. You then competed at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. What was that experience like?
A. I loved Rio a lot. It was so cool that my family was all over there to support me. I didn’t have the best preparation, as I broke my foot four weeks before the Games and was advised not to compete. But I was so keen to be there and I didn’t want to miss out again after missing London 2012, so I just did the best I could. I loved it and the result was okay, but just being there was special. Now I want to do better in Tokyo.
Q. Did your YOG experiences in Singapore help prepare you for Rio?
A. Yeah, definitely. Just things like living in the Village and seeing how things are set up, like the big dining hall. It definitely helps get ready for that. That's the awesome thing about the Youth Olympic Games; you get a taste of it, so it's not new, it doesn't overwhelm you when you go to your first Olympic Games.
Q. The year after Rio you were diagnosed with myocarditis. How difficult was that time for you?
A. That was probably the hardest time of my life. That was not so good. To deal with that... I wasn't able to train for one year... I wasn't able to do anything, so it was very, very hard. But it made me realise that this is what I want to be doing and I'm very grateful for the time that I have, even just training. I really enjoy training now, so I guess it made me more grateful to be where I am, but it was a very hard time, I didn't see that at the time. It took a few months back into training to see that I am lucky.
Q. How pleased are you to be competing again now?
A. I’m really happy to be back out there and just to be out competing again. I'm going to Europe soon, so to be back competing and on that next level is awesome.
Q. And what are your goals for the rest of the year, and then looking ahead to Tokyo 2020 next year as well?
A. The World Championships are the main goal this year, so I'd like a top eight, or a top six finish there. And then I’ll definitely be looking at a gold medal in Tokyo. That will be the goal. With the time off, it's been a long process. I can't do too much too quickly so I'm not going for a medal at the World Championships. I've got to get used to the competitive environment and then just get stronger. I understand the process a little bit more now, and in Tokyo I'll be ready.