Rosie Elliott perfectly times her race for crack at world athletics champions
It’s fair to say that Rosie Elliott has figured things out since her early days as a runner when she didn’t seem to see the wood for the trees. After battling motivational issues, mental health issues and even a noggin while playing rugby, she’s now found what you might call her full stride.
The 24-year-old from Canterbury had a perfectly timed run in Team New Zealand for the World Championships in Athletics in Eugene, Oregon (July 15-24), dipping inside the selection limit for the 400m despite not being initially named to the team, and falling short of posting an automatic standard.
Elliott was as surprised as anyone when she was told ahead of Monday’s official team announcement that she would be heading to Eugene. It wasn’t until a teammate alerted her a day earlier that she had climbed the 400m world rankings (when the one-lap hurdles had been removed) that she even realized she had a chance.
Reality blew his socks off.
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“It’s so cool,” says the athlete, who only started racing the 400m in earnest in February. She learns quickly. “It wasn’t something I prepared for this year… I’m really excited, and it’s going to be great to race against people who are 49-50 seconds. If I end up in a heat with (World No. 1) Shaunae Miller-Uibo, I would be so happy to be beaten by her. That would be the coolest thing.
The laid-back vibe hasn’t always been Elliott’s thing. After returning at the age of 16 from the 2014 Oceania Junior Championships (where she won a silver medal in the high jump), she saw no way forward and essentially walked away athletics.
“I looked towards the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, and it was incredibly inaccessible, and I had a hard time motivating myself,” Elliott said. “My last years at school, when I was 16-17, I stopped training. I took a gap year out of school and went to Europe, came back and started a BSc in Dunedin.
It wasn’t until living in a Scarpie flat, going through a whole different set of problems as a young woman living a Dunedin lifestyle that was a shock to her system, that she found her way back to a sport that would be a salvation.
Some launch themselves into university life like the proverbial ducks to water; Elliott just felt a growing sense of sinking. Living in a freezing student apartment, far from the comforts of home. proved a challenge she struggled with. Panic attacks began and a lingering concussion suffered while playing club rugby in Dunedin made matters worse.
“I learned a lot about myself as a person in that time. I had mental health issues during that time and athletics kind of took me out of it which was great,” she said. Things before leaving for the United States.
Three New Zealand women won gold medals on the Sydney track, and the women’s 4×100 m relay team also outscored the Australians.
Elliott had been referred to training Brent Ward in Dunedin, followed through and reconnected to her sport. This proved to be a catalyst for his journey out of darkness. “Just being outside, having a really cool group of people around me has helped me a lot,” she says. “Brent is the sweetest guy and he nurtured my love of the sport. The team environment was so positive, even though we were training on a track that barely thaws during the winter.
“I’m incredibly happy where I am now, but it’s been a long road, as anyone who’s held this position knows. It shaped who I am as a person now,” she says.
Elliott, like close friend and fellow Canterbury athlete Keeley O’Hagan, is sharing her story in the hope that it may help others. Mental health, body image issues, eating disorders… these are all some of the challenges that young female athletes can face in the modern world.
“Keeley is one of my closest friends, and knowing how her sharing of her story has touched me, touched people around us, and even people who don’t know her, it took me realizing the importance of talking about this stuff – letting people know it’s not all cotton candy and rainbows, because it really isn’t.
Or at least it wasn’t.
Elliott had a stellar 2022 after realizing 100/200 wasn’t enough for him. Despite its concession, the one-turn gutbuster is equivalent to “crossing honey.”
“It’s a disgusting event…incredibly difficult,” she said with a broad smile. “I’ve always been the kind of athlete that likes those workouts where you get to the end and you either want to pass out or cry. I just struggled with the idea of the 400.
“It’s such a difficult race psychologically. In the 100/200 you run full speed the whole way – then you go to 400 and run sub-max for longer, you have to figure out how fast you need to go certain places, and you have to be aware of the way your body moves. It was a good challenge.
One Elliott is the first to admit she’s still figuring it out, despite a PB of 52.59, a five-fight winning streak that won the Nationals and Oceania Championships, and a ‘Road to Oregon’ ranking of 38, well within the 48 guests at the global event..
“I’ve got up to eight 400s for the year now, and every single one of them has been such a cool learning experience. You learn how your body works, your mind works…you learn so much about yourself, it’s just a great adventure.
Take the Australian champions in April. Elliott finished third in the final won by Izzy Neal to complete a historic sweep of Kiwi sprints (Zoe Hobbs and Georgia Hulls won the two shorter distances), but considers it the pivotal race of his year.
“When I say I learned a lot about myself as an athlete, that really comes to mind. I felt like I walked into the call room as a 100/200 sprinter trying hard to run the 400, and felt after the event that I was now a 400m runner .
These are special times. New Zealand will have female athletes fielding the 100m (Hobbs), 200 (Hulls) and both versions of the 400 (Elliott and Portia Bing) in Oregon
From Andrew Maclennan’s crack group in Christchurch, comprising Elliott, Tiaan Whelpton and Anna Percy, to James Mortimer’s formidable Auks team led by Hobbs and Bing, to Eddie Osei-Nketia doing his thing in Australia, the Kiwis fly on shorter distances.
Elliott loves the ‘vibe’ in Christchurch where she and close friend Percy are ‘pushing each other and having fun’ and points to the ‘amazing’ Hobbs ‘leading the way’ for Kiwi female sprinters. “Both Zoe and Eddie have been to the last World Championships but neither have made it to the Olympics. When was the last time Athletics NZ sent an entire group of female sprinters to a major competition? It’s amazing.”
Elliott has learned in recent years to smell roses along the way.
“I’m 24 and I’m getting to the point where I’m watching all my friends get married, have kids…all the things you’re supposed to do with your life. And I’m hanging around in circles. Those are days like today that make me realize that it’s really worth it.