The Herald's gumboot champSave
A huge congratulations to New Zealand Herald's South Island reporter Kurt Bayer who has today clinched fourth spot in the New Zealand Gumboot Throwing Championships.
Bayer — ranked No 3 in the South Island — took on the nation's best in the event, which is part of the Hilux New Zealand Rural Games.
His fourth placing is even more impressive given one of the athletes who secured a podium spot ahead of him is Olympian Brent Newdick.
By Kurt Bayer
The crowd hushes, peaking under brollies. The field is stacked with athletes. Olympians. Legends known by first names. Val. Mahe.
And then there's me. Reporter geek. Gumboot in hand, TV cameras zooming at me from multiple angles.
I grip the top of the boot. A full fist clench, differing in technique from the South Island Championships. The rain had made the welly slippery. It's also treacherous under foot.
Nerves kick in. Pressure of the spotlight. Playing with the big boys now.
Hungry too. My alarm failed and I left home in the dark without my wallet. An army marches on its stomach, Napolean the little known gumboot tosser once said.
Visualise: spin low, high arm, release straight... avoid the spectators. Especially the babies. Back yourself...
"Let it fly," a teammate encourages.
I grimace, spin and hurl. It flies, but not far and collapses in an ugly rubbery heap, altogether too close to me. Muted applause. Bugger.
Decathlete and reigning national champ Brent Newdick sets the early pace in the Hilux New Zealand Rural Games 2017 gumboot throwing champs in the main town square of Palmerston North.
It's a great setting, where town meets country. The crowds oohs and aahs as Newdick sends a boot soaring over 40m. It's a rare and beautifully Kiwi sight.
The technically-sound Newdick leads after round one. But fellow Taihape lad and Lincoln student, James Kellow representing the South Island is not far behind, as is Darren Walton.
The rain eases. Mozzies munch ankles. Kellow wonders whether he should stick around for round two. He's got a game of Saturday club rugby to rush off to.
Officials converge and allow him to throw first in the final round.
The top qualifier from the South Island champs has the bit between his teeth. He unleashes a monster: 42.24m.
It proves to be enough. Newdick can't match it and Kellow is the new national champ.
He doesn't stick around for the prize-giving.
Or to see Dame Valerie Adams.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist shot putter gets some advice from North Island teammate Newdick.
She smiles, waves to the crowd and looks relaxed. Until she's about to spin. And then that famous game face drops down, and she twirls and hurls. It soars deep and long.
There's no wind now and the gummies fly.
To the surprise of few, Dame Valerie is the new women's national champ. She throws 34.38m... just short of the national record.
"I'm actually quite stoked," she says afterwards.
"It's harder than it looks. It's the first time that I've thrown a gumboot... in fact, I've only owned some for the past 24 hours."
Hunter S. Thompson, the godfather of gonzo journalism — when the reporter becomes part of the story, by accident of design... and mine is by pure accident — said that when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
For my last throw, I focus. Muttering with moving lips to "sort your s*** out Bayer", I take a deep breath and pause. Then I let it go... further than before, still only a smattering of claps, but happy that I've bet an Olympic double-medallist.
"You learn as you go," Drysdale tells me afterwards.
"I got a little bit better as the day went on, but not good enough to beat you."
I finish tied for fourth with South Island compatriot, Dutch student Koen Jantzen. The measuring tape came out at 33.05m — personal bests for us both.
We clap each other on the back as we accept our prizes — a pair of Red Band jandals, aka Bandals.
"I need a new pair too as I just had a blow out," Jantzen says.
As Dame Valerie deflects questions about whether she'll compete in the world championships in Estonia later this year, us South Island reps wander away.
We "confuse" the VIP tent with the competitors tent. We sneak a cheeky pale ale and mini-burger before being told to semi-politely "bugger off".
Walking out of the event, the band belts out, Hit the road, Jack.
And don't you come back, no more.
Probably a fair point.