Tokyo Olympics: Kiwi 1500m hope Sam Tanner reveals surprising secret to track success - surfing

  • 26/04/2021

When Olympic 1500m hope Sam Tanner went looking for a US scholarship, among his top priorities was access to a surf break.

These days, Tanner, 20, represents New Zealand's latest prospect in an event that has held pride of place in the nation’s athletics history.

In February, he qualified for Tokyo by setting a new national indoor record of 3m 34.72s at Staten Island, New York, beating two-time Olympic medalist and former Commonwealth Games champion Nick Willis in the process.

But after growing up near the ocean, Tanner still finds time to pursue his first love, while attending University of Washington.  

"I recall looking at the University of Hawai'i as an option, because of the outstanding surf there," he has told the World Athletics website. "I was a bit disappointed to find out they only had a women’s track and field team.

"While the coach [Andy Powell] was the big drawcard in committing to the University of Washington, I definitely wanted to be close to the water, which I am in Seattle.

"Unfortunately, the surf is not so good, but we have a lake nearby and I’m keen to go wake-surfing in the summer."

The Tauranga native says NZ-based coach Craig Kirkwood would supplement his athletics training with surfing during his teen years.

"I love the freedom surfing gives you - that adrenalin rush from feeling very small in nature and the power of the waves.

"I still love the buzz of surfing, the vibe and the lifestyle."

This month, Tanner was named in the NZ athletics contingent for Tokyo - his indoor record ranks as the fifth-fastest every by a Kiwi, behind Willis, former Olympic champion John Walker, former Olympic medallist Rod Dixon and national marathon recordholder Zane Robertson.

That performance put him sixth on this year's world indoor rankings and ninth overall for 2021.

He also became New Zealand's eighth-fastest miler, with 3m 54.97s at Whanganui in January.