Hannah O’Connor turned the heads of many who had never seen her run at Wellington’s Newtown Park a couple of summers ago when winning her 1500m race by almost 150 metres at the annual Capital Classic athletics meet. As Hannah was crossing the tape, the next runner was coming around the bend.
A not uncommon sight.
“I like running from the front, because I can then get out and not be stuck in traffic or be tripped up or anything. But I think it just works well for me because I can go out fast and keep going,” Hannah says.
On Saturday, the Sacred Heart Girls' College, New Plymouth, sports prefect comfortably won the Senior Girls title at the New Zealand secondary School Cross Country Championships in Taupo.
Hannah shot to the front early and eventually swatted away the chasers, winning the 4,000m event in 13.50 minutes, ahead of second placed Kirstie Rae (Wellington East Girls’ College) in 14:13 and third placed Aimee Ferguson (Rototuna Senior High School) in 14:18. Rebecca Baker from Wanganui High School was fourth and Sarah Lambert from Wanganui Collegiate fifth. There were 132 starters.
“It was a pretty awesome race for me, I just went out hard like I normally do and it happened to work for me,” Hannah enthuses.
The course was two 2km laps around Spa Park, and is a tough course. “It is quite an undulating course and there are two big hills.”
It was Hannah’s fourth consecutive schools cross country title, after winning the senior title in 2017 and the junior title in both 2015 and 2016.
“My goal was to get the four wins in a row. In year 9 I got second and I have won it ever since. So I was hoping to leave my mark on the secondary schools cross country on a high. There was lots of competition, so to be top three in an event like that is still amazing.”
Hannah’s next big race is in a few weeks at the North Island Cross Country Championships at the same venue. “That will be interesting to see how I run there, compared to how I went this past weekend!”
Hannah has had two trips overseas with New Zealand representative teams already this year.
In April she finished fourth and Aimee Fergusson was fifth at the ISF World Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships in Paris.
“I was pretty happy with that race, it was a great experience going away and competing against the different countries and making lots of new friends.” Hannah was the New Zealand team’s flag bearer at the event.
The race was won by an Australian, in a minor surprise. “She wasn’t the number one Australian team runner. It was quite an interesting course and a lot of favoured runners across the board didn’t do as well as they were expecting to do.”
Second was a runner from Morocco and third was an English girl who chased Hannah and Aimee down at the end and beat both kiwi athletes by a second.
In early May Hannah competed at the Melanesian Championships in Vanuatu, in a trial meet for the New Zealand U18 athletes hoping to make the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina in October. Hannah finished second in both the 3,000m and the 2,000m steeplechase races.
She is waiting to hear if she makes the Youth Olympics team for Argentina in October.
The format of the Youth Olympics in her events is unique in that competitors compete in a track distance event and a cross country race and the final placings and medals are determined by results across both together.
In December, Hannah hopes to compete in her final New Zealand Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships in Dunedin. Last year in Hastings she was recovering from a foot injury and ran the 3,000m and finished third.
When did Hannah discover she could run fast?
“When I was 10 I entered the Taranaki Schools Cross Country Championships and I managed to win - the year before I got 24th and with a bit of training I won the next year worked out that you can achieve your goals.”
She soon joined the local Egmont Athletics club and her running career was born.
“My coach is Karen Gillum-Green and she started to coach me in year 9, just before my first New Zealand secondary School Cross Country Championships when I finished second.”
What about other sports?
“When I was in primary school through to year 10 I played netball and basketball quite competitively, and I still currently do surf lifesaving for the Fitzroy Surf Club. I do volunteer life guarding with them as well and occasionally compete for them as well.”
She is a former national U16, U19 and open title 2km beach run champion.
For now, running is her sole focus. “I train six days a week. I have long runs on Wednesdays and Sundays and then two or three speed and interval sessions and I try to go to the gym for some strength training once or twice a week.”
She is not too sure what she is doing next year, but university is definitely on the cards, either in New Zealand or possibly in the USA.
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