Julia Ratcliffe may be well known as the best ever female hammer thrower in the Oceania region, but, at 26, she is also one of the youngest members on the board of Athletics Wellington.
Ratcliffe, who won gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games with a 69.94m effort, and silver at the Glasgow games throwing slightly further, has never competed at the Olympics. She missed out on Rio by 25cm, so is targeting Tokyo as her first Olympics after getting an Oceania record of 71.39m last month – her first competition since the Gold Coast. The massive throw at the Oceania champs added 64cm to her lifetime best and 27cm to the Oceania record.
You can see that throw here
She was asked to join the board in August after coming to Wellington a year ago to work at the Reserve Bank, using her economics degree. She is the board’s sole high-performance athlete, and one of two women, both in their twenties.
“It’s definitely interesting – I’ve done a lot of listening and learning,” she said of her time to date on the board. “People don’t understand what Athletics Wellington does.”
She wants to change that.
Ratcliffe is also on the Athletes Commission – a commission of high-performance athletes, including Eliza McCartney and Tom Walsh, initiated two months ago by Athletics New Zealand to provide a voice for high performance athletes.
But Ratcliffe will utilise her strong communication skills and her background and current experience as a high-performance athlete to provide a voice for athletes and the community in Wellington too.
Key challenges identified so far in Wellington include retention of officials, and of athletes as they move outside secondary school – as well as a desire to increase engagement through the media, including social media, and “getting people excited about athletics”.
“I’ve never been involved in the governance side – it gives me an appreciation of how volunteer-based the sport is. I don’t think athletes realise how much time goes into all this stuff.”
One of the region’s strengths is longer distance running. Road running and cross country is really strong in Wellington, Ratcliffe says, and she believes there are things done in those areas that can be learnings to cross over to track and field.
She travels back to Hamilton to her father Dave Ratcliffe – her self-taught coach – every six weeks as she still trains 10 hours a week. Her recent Oceania record may rank her top three in the Commonwealth, but she will have to throw further -72.50m – for a direct qualification for Tokyo. That’s less than two metres shy of the bronze medal throw at Rio. However, qualification can be made via the points system, and that Oceania win will come in handy as selection via the points system is based on the average point score of the best five competitions.
Does Ratcliffe believe she is capable of a direct qualification throw? “I wouldn’t be training if I didn’t