Paris Olympics: Kiwi 1500m hopeful Sam Tanner on the meaning behind his pre-race ritual

In August, all eyes will be on Sam Tanner - New Zealand's 2024 Olympics contender in the Men's 1500 metre race in Paris.  

That's not just because he's one of the fastest on the track - but for his unique enthusiasm just before the race.  

"It's cool to stand at the start line, do a pūkana and show, 'Look, I'm a proud Kiwi' and bring some mana," Tanner said. "I'm Māori and that's something I can bring and show culturally."

The 23-year-old Ngapuhi athlete grew up in Pāpāmoa where he still lives near the beach.  

Surfing is his passion and when he's not running or training in the gym, he'll tuck a surfboard under one arm and go down to the waves every chance he gets. The ocean fitness is a key to his track success but, equally, gives him a mental edge.

"Surfing was always my outlet," he told The Hui. "I used surfing just to clear my mind whenever I was stressed."

It's that love of the outdoors and beach that he shares with his wife Melissa. She'll be in the stands in Paris, along with Tanner's mother and sister.  

Sam Tanner.
Photo credit: Photosport

This will make a crucial difference to his performance on the day.

"I cannot describe how important it will be to have them there. I race a million times better. I can dig 10 percent deeper when I know that my family or [the] people I care about are in the stands.  

"It takes away the mental game, giving up is not even an option".

Something not commonly known is how special Tanner's Christian faith is to him. He said it helps his mind to stay focussed and knowing what he is called to do confirms he's going in the right direction and calms him in competitions.

"I know everybody's journey towards being relaxed before the race is different but for me part of it is faith having a knowledge that... I'm part of something greater, and then I can only control what I can control."

When Tanner was named in the team for Paris, it brought him as close as he could get to his childhood dream, ignited when he watched Nick Willis on television as a kid win his medals at the Olympics for the 1500 metre race.

"Probably one of my biggest life goals is to get an Olympic medal and so that'd be pretty, pretty special."

Whatever he achieves on the world stage, he'll make New Zealand proud - but he won't be giving up his Kiwi beach lifestyle. He's too grounded here.

"If we didn't have running or the fame and success, it would still be a great life, in fact it might even be better."

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