Queenstown’s Hayato Yoneto is on the fast track.
The former Wakatipu High School (WHS) sprinter is among a select group of track and field athletes chosen to represent New Zealand at the 2023 Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands in November and December.
The selection caps off a cracking few months for the 22-year-old, who clocked a personal best of 10.74 seconds for the 100m last December, was picked up by the Joe Hunter coaching stable, then was hand-picked by New Zealand’s fastest-ever 110m hurdler, Josh Hawkins, to be his training partner.
Big achievements for a late-comer to the track.
Yoneto spent much of his sporting youth playing soccer where his pace was an asset for the WHS 1st XI, which he captained.
By then he was dabbling in the sprint events and by year 12 he competed in the secondary school nationals in Dunedin, where he made the 200m final.
While he didn’t place, the experience made him hungry for more.
‘‘In year 13, I went to Wellington and made the inter-secondary schools finals of both the 100m and 200m.
‘‘I think I placed fifth for both.
‘‘That really ignited my competitive spirit,’’ he tells Mountain Scene.
After leaving WHS with the senior sportsman of the year trophy, he moved to Auckland to pursue a career in sports, graduating last year from the University of Auckland with a degree in exercise science.
This year, he switched to the Auckland University of Technology, where he is about to complete a post-grad certificate in sport, exercise and health.
Self-trained until joining Hunter’s squad last year, Yoneto made both the 100m and 200m senior finals at the 2023 New Zealand Track and Field Championships.
‘‘The 100m final was probably one of the fastest finals we’ve ever had in a while in NZ.
‘‘I did end up coming last in the final but it was still a really fast race.
‘‘I actually ran 10:62 in the final — just 0.31 seconds behind the winner — but it was wind-assisted [so didn’t count].’’
With his Japanese-born parents remaining in Queenstown, Yoneto spent his uni summer holidays volunteering as a sprint skills coach with the Remarkable Runners and Queenstown Athletic Club, a role he hopes will help inspire other talented youths in the area.
Having been certified as a level 1 strength and conditioning coach, in February he got a gig as the Birkenhead United Football Club’s S&C coach, in Auckland.
In addition to his studies, he’s now helping prepare the University of Auckland’s men’s football team for the University World Cup in October.
While he intends to attend one or two competition events in the lead-up, Yoneto says his main focus now until the end of the year is the Pacific Games.
Having never been to the Pacific Islands before, he’s a bit nervous about racing in the sweltering summer heat, but has a clear goal of getting his 100m sprint time down to at least 10.5 seconds at the event.
‘‘I’m up against runners from mostly Pacific Islands but the Australians will also have a team competing … I’ll have to bring my A-game to all of the races.’’
His ultimate goal is to ‘‘kick on to the world championships’’.
‘‘I can feel myself getting a bit closer to a dream.
‘‘It’s an amazing feeling.’’