Champions Breakfast at AUT Millennium

12 Mar, 2024
Champions Breakfast at AUT Millennium
Damon Salesa (left), Rebecca Meder, Tina Ball, David Liti, Olivia McTaggart, Lewis Clareburt, Sam Tanner, Connor Bell and Mike Stanley (right).

Elite athletes from track and field, the pool, and weightlifting shared their inspirational stories at a Champions Breakfast at AUT Millennium last week, in advance of the Paris Olympics.

Athletics was represented by discus thrower and AUT graduate Connor Bell, pole vaulter Olivia McTaggart and 1,500m runnear Sam Tanner. Individual medley swimmers Lewis Clareburt and South Africa’s Rebecca Meder talked about the impressive facilities at AUT Millennium, while weightlifter star David Liti and his coach Tina Ball highlighted the behind-the-scenes tension that occurs at high-level competitions.

AUT Millennium’s chief executive Mike Stanley interviewed the sportspeople before a large crowd, which included AUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Damon Salesa, who is also the chair of AUT Millennium.

Mike talked about AUT’s world-class sport and recreation programme and AUT Millennium being a centre of excellence where athletes could focus on their desire to be the best in the world.

He said the 90s were a challenging time for our Olympic athletes who were competing on a voluntary basis against international professional systems. But the closer partnership with AUT and HPSNZ (High Performance Sport New Zealand), signed in 2012, had enabled the creation of the outstanding facilities now available at AUT Millennium.

“New Zealand has a world-class high-performance programme, which allows our athletes to be the very best they can be. They take great pride in representing Aotearoa NZ and being part of the NZ Team and its culture, built around our core value of manaaki (respect), and this helped us achieve a record medal tally in Tokyo in 2021.”

Mike added that while AUT Millennium was mainly a community facility, it also offered high-quality amenities for top athletes to help them become the best they could be. “HPSNZ provides a wraparound service, covering information, support, medical, strength and conditioning, and all those disciplines that make up the suite of things athletes need to be successful.”

Aucklander Olivia (24) competed in the Commonwealth Games twice (2018 and 2022), while Sam (23), Nga Puhi from Papamoa, was 6th at the 2022 games and is the 2nd fastest New Zealander over 1,500m after Nick Willis. Connor (22), from Kaukapakapa, was also at the 2022 games and holds the NZ discus throw record.

Lewis, 24, moved from Wellington to Auckland earlier this year to train at AUT Millennium  and has already qualified for Paris. Rebecca, known as Becky, is a 21-year-old from South Africa who followed her coach to New Zealand. She’ll return home shortly to secure her spot on the national team, and then resume her training at AUT Millennium ahead of the Olympics.

She said, compared to South Africa, the facilities at AUT Millennium were incredible – “two 50m indoor pools – with chlorine – and the lane dividers ready to go, plus hot showers. In South Africa, the pools are outdoor and cold as the power is off overnight, there’s no chlorine, you have to put in the lane markers yourself….”

Weightlifter David, 27, delivered New Zealand’s best-ever performance in weightlifting at the Tokyo Olympics and won gold at 2018 Commonwealth Games. He also set a Commonwealth Games record with a total lift of 403kg.

Growing up in Tonga before moving to New Zealand, he thought he’d be a police officer or a rugby player, never expecting to end up as a champion weightlifter. His coach Tina said he’s not allowed to squat more than 370kg while Mike said he always knew when David was training at AUT Millennium – “when he drops the weight, you can feel it through the whole building….and I’m on the third floor!” All three agreed that competition was healthy as it makes athletes strive and stretch for more.

Professor Damon Salesa concluded the breakfast by talking about the spirit of partnership between AUT and AUT Millenium. “The solution to so many of the big challenges in the world lie in community and partnership. At AUT Millenium, you can find Olympians in the corridor next to an 85-year-old lap swimmer and four-year-old kids.

“Different perspectives and the fostering of inclusive environments cultivates a spirit of partnership that has the incredible ability to inspire individuals, including many of our athletes, to create positive change.”

Salesa also highlighted the significance of the 2024 Olympics which, for the first time, will see an event taking place in the Pacific Islands, with the surfing contest being held in Tahiti.

AUT is proud to be the official university partner of the New Zealand Team competing at the Paris 2024 Olympics.