Rew Intent on Another Record
Race Walker Quentin Rew hopes to secure his second New Zealand record of the year at the World Championships in Moscow. Steve Landells chats to the ambitious former middle-distance runner about his meteoric rise in the discipline of Race Walking.
‘To win an Olympic gold medal’ is by any stretch of the imagination a lofty ambition. Then again, Quentin Rew has never lacked in confidence. In fact, it was sitting down and writing out that very target that acted as the spur for the Wellingtonian to change the entire path of his athletics career.
Now more than five years on, the 29-year-old is an established international set for his second World Championship appearance in Moscow this month. The switch from modest middle-distance runner into record breaking race walker is not one he has regretted.
It was a persistent Achilles injury back in 2007-8 which forced the 3:57 1500m runner to take a year out of the sport and it sent the restless Kiwi into a contemplative mood.
“During that year I wasn’t doing a lot physically and I needed to do something to keep me occupied,” he explains. “At that point I set myself five life goals, one of which was to win Olympic gold.”
An experienced endurance athlete, he at first considered switching to the sport of cycling, but after dismissing it as ‘too expensive’ he then hit on the idea of Race Walking as a means for delivering his Olympic dream.
“I knew Richard Potts, a guy who uniquely won national titles over 3000m in both running and race walking,” he explains. “I thought there’s no set up costs (to race walking) I have the aerobic advantages, it seemed to me the obvious choice.”
Quentin via Potts was quickly put in touch with leading race walking coach Graeme Jones, who is still his coach today, and he was put under a rigorous training regime to adjust to the technical demands of the event.
“At first I had to learn how to walk legally and then I had to learn how to do so more efficiently,” he explains. a “Once you get over that first hurdle, it is a case of being more efficient, putting myself in better races and trying to marry those two variables.”
He was a quick learner. In 2009 Quentin landed the national 50km Road Walking title. Two years later he made another giant step forward, hacking almost five minutes from his 20km best and earning a call up to the New Zealand team for the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.
There he finished a respectable 24th. Last year in a high-class Olympic 50km race in London, he placed 30th.
“I couldn’t have walked any faster on those two occasions,” admits Quentin, who set his 50km personal best mark of 3:55:03 to climb to second on the all-time New Zealand lists at the London Games.“I was happy with my time in London. I was willing to accept that it, but at the same I acknowledged that I needed to get faster and not be complacent.”
Post-London, realising he needed to do something different to further his race walking career, he decided to stay in the UK, where he has settled with his partner Alana in the city of Leeds – the home of the UK national race walking centre.
A qualified physiotherapist, Quentin has enjoyed the benefit of flexible working hours at a practice in the historic city of York, but more significantly the move has had a two-fold benefit for his race walking.
“I guess the big one, has been the training partners I have here in Leeds,” explains Quentin who carries out some of his training along the city's canals. “In Wellington I was training by myself, which made it difficult to get 100 per cent out of myself for the long, hard sessions.
“Living in Leeds has also allowed me to get top level races relatively easily. I can get to Europe within an hour and that allows my training budget to go a whole lot further than when I was New Zealand.”
All the signs this year show the New Zealander is in the form of his life. Selected earlier this year for the 50km at the World Championships in Moscow has allowed the Wellington Harrier to focus more on his speed over the 20km distance.
He recorded 1:22:56 to finish 15th in Lugano in March to hack almost five minutes from his 20km lifetime best, which had previously stood at 1:27:47. Just one month later he trimmed four seconds from Craig Barrett's national record with 1:22:16 to win the German 20km title in Naumberg.
Quentin insists the huge chunk he has taken from his 20km PB this year is a 'little misleading' because his previous best mark was set back in 2011 in extreme heat where temperatures of 35c did not allow for fast times.
However, the former middle-distance runner is typically confident about his chances in Moscow and if the temperature is favourable he believes he is set to shine.
“In good conditions I can do quite a good PB,” insists Quentin, who in the lead up to the World Championships has been training in St Moritz, Switzerland.
“In the back of my mind is Craig Barrett's 50km NZ record, which is just a few seconds over 3:48 (it is 3:48:05). I think it is possible.”
And does he have a position in mind?
“If I don't get top 16 this time, it will be pretty disappointing,” admits Quentin. “I think, If I can go around the mid to high 3:40s – a top 16 should be well achievable.”