Jumper’s natural high

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Young athlete misses NZ title by just a whisker.

If you tell Queenstown’s Gideon Barnard to go jump, he’ll ask: “How high?”

The 20-year-old, who stands 2.01 metres, jumped 2m to take silver at his first New Zealand athletics champs in Wellington last month.

Barnard came within a whisker of gold – he just shaved the bar with his leg at 2.05m, the height reached by gold medallist Billy Crayford, and if Barnard had cleared it he’d have won on countback.

A month earlier, Barnard and Crayford shared gold medals at the Black Singlet Invitational in Auck­­land with 2m jumps.

Barnard’s achievements are even more noteworthy because when he shifted here from South Africa in December 2007, he missed a whole season and he also didn’t do any pre-season training this past summer.

In addition, he’s somewhat disadvantaged by having to travel to Invercargill to train – that’s where his coach is based – between long hours working as a manager at Walter Peak’s Colonel’s Homestead restaurant.

Barnard has “the speed, strength, height and determination that suggests he will progress a lot further”, coach Lance Smith says.

Noting high jumpers don’t reach their full potential till their mid- to late-20s, Barnard should clear 2.10m over the next couple of seasons, Smith thinks.

Barnard’s personal best is 2.05m, which he set in South Africa two years ago. Had he jumped that in Wellington, he’d also have claimed the Southland record, set at 2.04m by former rugby referee Paddy O’Brien way back in 1983.

The NZ record is 2.30m set by Glen Howard nine years ago – the Otago record, incidentally, is still held by Queenstown planning consultant Jeff Brown, who jumped 2.15m in 1988.

Barnard says his goal is to represent NZ once he gains residency at the end of next year.

One advantage to living here rather than South Africa is that he doesn’t have to pay his coach, he notes: “I just pay him with gold and silver medals.”