We caught up with Julia Ratcliffe, one of three CurraNZ ambassadors who represented New Zealand at Tokyo. Here, the New Zealand Women’s Hammer Champion reveals her big-game plan and behind-the-scenes insights, where she threw her heart out to make it to the Olympic Final.
Julia, from Hamilton, New Zealand, is one of New Zealand’s most successful all-time women hammer throwers. Having made great strides to qualify for her first Games with an impeccable preparation, Julia had specific goals coming into this prestigious competition.
While it may sound a little unusual, one goal was to simply ‘enjoy the moment’ and recall the experience of being centre stage and letting the hammer fly.
Reflecting on the event, Julia says that mixing with all the ‘top people’ in hammer helped cement the reality that she was ‘back in it’ after a long time away from international competition.
She says: “Dad (Dave, her coach) and I were geared to get through the first round. I hadn’t made it through a qualifying round before at this level of competition. So, for me, it wasn’t a competition about winning, but about making it through to the top 12.
Calmly stepping into the cage, Julia noted how unusual it was seeing all the empty seats, thinking to herself: “this is bloody cool, I’m at the Olympics.
“I was halfway through my first throw and I didn’t like it so I stopped and started again. Some people may have thought it was strange or that something was wrong, but it didn’t bother me and I was one of the few who got all three throws out of the cage.”
A best throw of 72.30m sent Julia through to the next round, where she finished fourth in her group of 16. Afterwards, she felt an adrenal and emotional ‘hangover’ from the effort - and was sore too. Fortunately, there was one day’s rest before the final (and CurraNZ to help her recovery).
Come the big day, Julia threw 72.69m for ninth place overall, saying: ”I just put it all out there, having accomplished our goal of getting through the first round”.
The withdrawal of US gymnast Simone Biles at the Olympics for mental health reasons has put the spotlight on the huge mental pressure elite athletes are subjected to at these events.
To prepare, Julia consulted a sports psychologist every six-eight weeks as part of her training programme.
Her psychologist warned her that her brain would throw a few ‘horror’ or ‘what if’ scenarios at her. Previous experience of worrying before big international events helped her recognise how to ‘break the circuit’, with her psychologist advising that ‘your body is ready to do what it wants to do, focus without overthinking’.
Julia also used the Headspace app. Their sports pack offers meditation and mindfulness – the ability to identify feelings and process them accordingly - so you can focus on the goals at hand.
With throngs of people reaching out to her in the lead-up to the event and expressing how proud they were of her, the realisation that friends and supporters were just thrilled to see Julia on TV helped relieve the mental pressure.
Being a supplement company, we asked Julia how much nutrition played a part in her training and preparation leading to the event.
Of the different aspects - physical and mental, Julia rated nutrition at about 20%.
Julia says: ‘While I didn't need the distance running benefits (of CurraNZ), just waking up and not thinking to myself ‘oh God I’ve got to go do this again, how am I going to do it again?... was great. I could go into each day thinking ‘I can do this, it's not going to be a huge slog’….which really helped me.’
The NZ team had an apartment block in the village and Julia was with the athletics team. She experienced a bit of social anxiety with the threat of COVID, trying to maintain social distancing, especially when friends from other countries wanted to dash over for a hug.
If she had contracted Covid and passed it on to a fellow teammate it would have been horrific and a few times Julia saw other countries not taking the necessary precautions.
The lobby had been set up with a TV and bean bags for the athletes on her floor to relax and cheer on fellow Kiwis in their events. Masks and social distancing were mandatory.
Julia has automatically qualified for the World Champs in Eugene (Oregon USA) next year and the Commonwealth Games (pending NZ selection).
While she plans on taking a break from throwing the hammer over the next few months, she’ll still be training in the gym.
Now forever-recorded in history as competitor 1480, she can also add the honorary letters ‘Oly’ after her name. Julia joked: “If I had come eighth I would have received a diploma as well, but that would have been just one more thing to bring home!”
Huge congratulations to Julia on her performance in Japan, CurraNZ is extremely proud to have been a part of her training journey and help her be her personal best.