Wellington race walker Daniel du Toit is now an U18 Oceania champion as well as a New Zealand record holder.
The 16-year-old is one of Wellington’s youngest race walkers and is also Wellington’s fastest resident race walker. The only one faster is Melbourne-based Quentin Rew, who was fifth at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in the 20km event.
du Toit headed off the competition in the 5km Oceania event in Townsville this month by just three seconds. But he came from behind, ramped up his speed, and got huge personal best time in a new championship record, clocking 22:14.09 – ahead of an Australian who did not do a personal best.
“I only got him in the last 100m,” he said. “I’ve got quite a good speed – I am able to up my technique to go quite fast.”
Had he not done a personal best, du Toit would have trailed the field by some distance. But he didn’t think that would happen.
“I felt like I had a good chance – but the other racers are quite good walkers. I broke my personal best by exactly a minute – it was a good pb.”
It was du Toit’s second trip to Australia to compete, and he won last time as well. But this time around was better.
“It was a good experience – it was way more professional than anything I’ve been to before,” he said.
But it was only the beginning of last year that du Toit took up race walking seriously. He trained for a couple of months before last year’s Nationals; and ended up coming second in the U18 10km race walk, and winning the 3km race walk.
At the New Zealand track and field championships this year, du Toit finished first in the U18 3km event, setting a New Zealand U17 record, and finishing second in the 10km.
Race walking is quite foreign to many athletes and spectators, du Toit says.
“They don’t understand race walking. They think it is something you do on the side.”
But it really is simple. There are more rules in the run-up to the high jump, as there are only two rules in race walking. One is that the athlete’s back toe cannot leave the ground until the heel of the front foot has touched. So, race walking is simply not putting one foot in front of the other, with the winner being the one who does it more often more quickly.
“It’s a lot more complicated,” du Toit says. “You have to have straight knees when your foot touches the ground until the leg passes your body.”
du Toit knows that second rule well. Before he took up race walking seriously, he was competing and race walking from at the age of 10. But as he got taller he kept on getting disqualified for this second rule, primarily during a growth spurt that interfered with his technique. He subsequently stopped race walking and competed as a runner, but it was hard on his lower back and said his running wasn’t going anywhere. He resumed walking and says walking is not as hard on his back.
While Quentin Rew does 50k events, that is the total distance du Toit trains each week, sometimes with his father and coach Phillip cycling beside him. He also enjoys being part of the Athletics Wellington community.
“I enjoy the sport and the people, especially in Wellington. All the walkers in Wellington are super supportive of me.”
Another highlight this year was to be selected for the Pathway to Podium programme, and to be nominated as a finalist in the Emerging Sportsman category at the Wellington Sports awards.
With Oceanias under his belt, du Toit is to focus more on the 10km event. The 5km event is not an Olympic event, is mainly raced by those 18 and under, and is not an event at the U20 IAAF World Championships which du Toit is targeting. It wasn’t an event at Oceanias for those over 18 either.
First, he may race the event at the National Road Championships this year. His focus is leaning more to road events at the longer distance than the 5km track event. But with such a huge 5km pb, he considers he has a good opportunity of breaking either the 5km or 10km U18 New Zealand record, but obviously not both at the same competition. He has yet to decide which distance he will enter. But the Pathway to Podium athlete looks promising to be one of the few Wellington athletes to medal at every national event entered – and likely to be on top of the podium again before the year is out.