Athletics: Theo Quax channels memory of father Dick for NZ U20 record

When Theo Quax broke a 25-year-old New Zealand U20 1500m record, he immediately thought of dad.

"It's a bit of a shame he's no longer around to see it, but it's awesome knowing that if he was here, how stoked he would be," Quax told Newshub.

Theo was coached by father Dick Quax, right up until the Olympic 5000m silver medallist and former world recordholder lost his long battle with cancer in May 2018.

Now, Quax Jnr is pursuing a career they always talked about - a track-and-field scholarship at the University of Northern Arizona.

"I find a lot of comfort in that I'm making him proud still," he said from his Flagstaff dorm room.

"I knew I was going to have to pass the baton on to a new coach eventually."

While he was apprehensive about college at first, he believes he's made the right call on his university in dad's absence.

"My coach [Mike] Smith coaches very similar to how dad did and he’s got very similar philosophies in training."

Having one of the best college middle-distance coaches in the US appears to be working.

Quax shaved nearly eight seconds off his personal best to set the U20 record with a 3m 39.84s run, a feat he initially thought was out of his reach.

“I underestimate myself a fair bit. I didn’t think personally that I should be in that field, because it had boys of huge talent.

"They’re the best in the NCAA - it was awfully intimidating”

But Smith believed in him and now he can call himself the second-fastest 1500m runner - among 19-year-olds - in the US.

His meteoric rise in one year has him eyeing the prestigious US college championships in June. It's all going to plan for Theo, after enduring a tough 2018, which saw him lose his number-one supporter and make the life-changing move to the US.

 "At the start, it was a bit touch and go," Quax admitted.

"Especially because you're going into a team, where you don't know anyone and I didn't have my dad, which was a big thing for me, but I think I've adjusted really well.

"You get a bit of a slap to the face, when you first get here."

Once used to being the "centre of attention and dad’s athlete", he’s now relishing being in a 45-strong team with top athletes at his university.

Now, he believes he's in the best position to improve his times, so he can one day represent New Zealand on the world stage.

"Do I think I'll make an Olympic or world champs qualifier at NCAA nationals?" Quax laughs. "Definitely not."

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was once a goal, but now he's playing the long game.

"It's an old man's sport," he says. "Look at Nick Willis, he's 36, and he's still running fantastically and competing at the world level, so I know I've still got plenty of time."