When you think about the future stars of New Zealand athletics, consider Queenstown runner Siena Mackley.
At only 16, Siena’s just been selected for the NZ under-20 women’s team for the world cross country champs in Serbia at the end of March.
She’s the youngest in the six-women team, chosen after she was one of nine to go under a 5000-metre qualifying time — 17mins 25secs — on the track in Auckland last month.
Her Queenstown Athletic Club coach Neville Britton says ‘‘this is just absolutely incredible for a girl so young’’.
He says Siena’s ‘‘got a work ethic like no one else I’ve ever coached’’.
‘‘She’s really, really focused on reaching her goals.’’
What stands out, he says, is her ability to change gears and out-sprint the rest of the field when they’re flagging.
Siena first came to notice when, at just 14, she won the U20 women’s title at the NZ mountain running champs on Queenstown’s Deer Park Heights.
She followed that up with a second placing last year.
Both results qualified her to represent NZ at the mountain running worlds, but both times she was too young to go.
In March last year, in probably her best result to date, Siena won the U18 3000m women’s title at the NZ track and field champs in Wellington by an impressive 6 seconds.
From just training on the track this summer, she’s now having to juggle this with cross country training — however, she’ll still be defending her 3000m track title in Wellington in March, just days before she and her dad Richard fly off to Belgrade.
Siena, who’ll be in Year 12 at Wakatipu High this year, says she can’t figure out whether she prefers track or cross country.
‘‘I like them for different reasons — I like track because it’s really tactical, but then I like cross country because it’s not.
‘‘I want to go to the States for university, and they do everything, so I don’t have to decide for a while.’’
She says the Belgrade event, which will attract some of the world’s best runners, is ‘‘more for the experience than the placing’’.
Richard says he and Siena are having to pay their way, which he estimates will cost about $10,000.
Meantime, Siena’s also made the NZ schools team that’ll compete in the world schools cross country champs in Kenya in May.