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Vander-Kuyp reflects 20 years on from record run

11 August 2015

ATHLETICS: On 11 August 1995 Kyle Vander-Kuyp set the Australian record for the 110m hurdles at the World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden with his time of 13.29 seconds.

That sensational run still stands as the fastest by an Australian 20 years on. It also remains an achievement Vander-Kuyp considers the pinnacle of a  career which included  two Olympic Games, four Commonwealth Games and being crowned National Champion on 12 occasions..

“I remember the race like it was yesterday,” Vander-Kuyp, who was 24 at the time, said.

“For me, it was the feeling that I had finally arrived as one of the best hurdlers in the world, from talented junior to successful senior.”

“I am so proud to have been able to set such a record which has lasted so long,” he said.

The following year he made the Olympic final at the 1996 Games in Atlanta placing seventh and four years on was a semi-finalist at his home Olympic Games in Sydney.

Born in Paddington, Sydney, this indigenous Australian athlete of the Worimi and Yuin tribe of North and South Coast New South Wales, was adopted by Pat and Ben Vander-Kuyp at only 5 weeks old.

Forever proud of his Indigenous heritage, Vander-Kuyp ran in the traditional Aboriginal colours of red, yellow and black, and any time he could, donning black socks when he represented Australia at the World Championships in 1995.

Re-living the Swedish World Championships, Vander-Kuyp explained that this second appearance at a senior World Championship , meant he knew what to expect.

“Coming into the champs, I had only got my time down to about 13.6 in lead up races so although I knew my best was still in me I had no idea what would come out at the worlds,” he said.

Having run in Round 1 earlier that day, Vander-Kuyp managed to drop his time to 13.47, qualifying easily for the next round.

Heading into the second round, Vander-Kuyp was confident, and excited to line up next to two time Olympic Champion and former world record holder, Roger Kingdom, who also happened to be his high school idol.

“I remember walking from the warm-up track and watching Roger with his headphones on listening to music and he was having so much fun it really made me think… Wow this guy is enjoying what he does so much. I’m sure some of his mood rubbed off on me and I began to really take in the moment.

“Walking out onto the track I heard a voice from the crowd yell out my name it was my dad who made the trip to Worlds to watch me, it was his first time to watch me compete overseas.”

An incredible start out meant Vander-Kuyp’s race was set up well from the first hurdle.

By mid-race, he was safely in the lead, eventually crossing the line ahead of his childhood hero.

“It took a while to realise what the time was, then it was pure satisfaction, the execution I had dreamt in all those hours of training,” said Vander-Kuyp.

“Roger gave me a big hug and congratulated me and said I know you have been waiting for this to happen for a while now. What a moment.”

Vander-Kuyp’s form continued for the Championships, where he finished in 5th place in the final, in a time of 13.30.

Australia brought home a silver and bronze medal from the Gothenburg World Championships, both in relay events.

The men’s 4x100m relay of Paul Henderson, Tim Jackson, Steve Brimacombe and Damien Marsh brought home silver, while Cathy Freeman, Melinda Gainsford-Taylor, Renee Poetschka and Lee Naylor won bronze in the 4 x 400m women’s relay.

Now on the 20 year anniversary, 23-year-old Nicholas Hough is now being compared to Vander-Kuyp and considered likely to challenge the Australian record over the coming years.

Hough from Sydney was a finalist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and has his first international breakthrough when he won the gold medal at the inaugural Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010. 

Hough achieved silver at the World Juniors in 2012 and is in great form ahead of his senior World Championships debut in Beijing this month.

Hough won the national title in 13.42 in March and recently clocked 13.64 in Belgium. Vander-Kuyp is excited to see how Hough performs in China. “He has already broken a number of records and represented at major meets with such composure and fierce nature I think it won’t be long before he takes my record.”

Vander-Kuyp is happy to see another Australian athlete doing so well in his pet event.

“Nick is such a good bloke, it will be nice to watch him develop over the next 8-10 years I can’t wait to see what he can do at the Olympics in Rio,” Vander-Kuyp, who hopes to work with Hough over the next few years, said.

 “Becoming an Olympian is always hard to beat as it’s the dream you hold as a young kid.”

Re-living his experience at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Vander-Kuyp said nothing compares to the unbelievable support he received from the crowd when he walked out for his race, and during the Opening and closing ceremonies.

“I remember the roar when I was announced in lane 8 for my semi-final, it was a moment that I will hold onto forever,” he said.

Vander-Kuyp misses the tartan track, but he says he was ready for the next chapter of his life to start and for him it was starting a family.

“This is a great feeling as well and maybe one day I can be at the track with one of my kids watching them create something special,” said Vander-Kuyp.

He has received many honours, particularly for his contributions to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sport. In 2003 he won the prestigious Charles Perkins Award.

In his post-athletics career, Vander-Kuyp has been involved with number of programs that support young Indigenous people, and he has spent time working in remote communities with Indigenous kids as a role model, ambassador and mentor.

An ambassador for Beyond Blue and The Cathy Freeman Foundation, Vander-Kuyp was also awarded the Edwin Flack medal for services to athletics in 2012. Now working as a mentor for AFL SportsReady, Vander-Kuyp is involved with young Indigenous trainees starting their career across Victoria, which he says is very rewarding and challenging at the same time.

“This is a real passion of mine and something that is close to my heart as I know now how important it was to receive that encouragement from people when I was younger.”

When it was announced in May 2015, that the Australian Olympic Committee was amending its’ constitution to recognise Indigenous rights, Vander-Kuyp thought this change was a fantastic step towards building on the legacy of the 43 Indigenous athletes that have represented Australia at the games.

“I am really excited to see what this change can do to promote and help make Indigenous Australians more aware of what the Olympics is all about and hopefully inspire a young child out there somewhere to strive to be an Olympian.”

Vander-Kuyp’s advice for any young athlete is to “always be patient, persistent and passionate when following your dreams and always try to be yourself.

The IAAF World Championships commence on August 22nd 2015 and will run until August 30th in Beijing, China.

Ashleigh Knight
olympics.com.au

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