Austin Smith – running his legs off on a hockey pitch
24 August 2016
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, good things coming up on today’s podcast and I’m super excited to welcome our next guest. Not out and out running chat, but how running relates to what he does for a living. It’s a massive pleasure to head over to the Netherlands now where we catch up with South African hockey legend, Austin Smith. Austin welcome, thanks for joining us today.
Austin Smith: Hi good morning Brad, thanks for having me on the show.
BB: Austin, you’re in the Netherlands, you’re obviously South Africa. But you’re in the Netherlands because that’s where you ply your trade. You play pro hockey in the Netherlands and you’re in the final run-up to pre-season. So essentially you’re on holiday, you enjoying your time off?
AS: Yeah, it’s always nice to have a bit of a break from hockey, it’s become an all year round sport now. So we’re quiet in summer, with us not going to the Olympics. We haven’t had any South African national commitments. So I’ve just enjoyed some time without the stick and ball and been able to do a bit of, what I call cross training. So, that’s been really nice.
BB: What is cross training for you?
AS: Basically I call cross training anything that doesn’t involve running around on a hockey field with a stick and ball. I can go for hikes, I can go for runs, I can play different sports, which I think is also quite good for my body to do other movements. Instead of just hunched over in that hockey playing position which does take its toll.
Running to keep fitness levels up
BB: We talk about off-season, but as a professional sportsman it’s important to stay in shape, you can’t hang out on the dark side during your off season and let yourself go. You’ve got to stay fit. How big a role does running play in keeping that fitness up and just keeping your body fresh essentially?
AS: I think that plays a really big role. I don’t ever want to get to the point where I’m starting our club pre-season sessions not having done anything through my break. Because obviously we come back and we train five times a week. So your body would get a bit of a shock.
I really enjoy the opportunity during the summer breaks. So when I’m back home in South Africa, when I was there last in June, I was able to just go for some trail runs and just able to run and enjoy it. It’s not against the clock per se and it’s not with the coach shouting at you about going harder and faster.
I can actually just run and enjoy the surroundings. Especially here in the Netherlands, there are some beautiful routes around lakes and things. There’s obviously a lot of water here and I really enjoy being able to run without the pressure of anything.
BB: Austin, as far as your hockey commitments go, you mentioned no national commitments right now. When the news first broke that SA hockey weren’t going to the Olympics, I know you were bitterly disappointed, has that disappointment subsided or is it still quite raw and tough to deal with? You’ve been to the Olympics twice, you know what it’s like, you were in Beijing, in London. You guys essentially did the work to get to Rio but were stonewalled at the last minute.
Taking heart from Olympic snub
AS: Yeah, it’s a tricky one because it goes on phases where I go through moments where I accepted it and I moved on. I’m starting to focus my attention towards Commonwealth Games and World Cup in 2018. Then there are other moments, just recently, so many of the guys who I know personally, other national teams, I see on my Facebook feed photos of guys arriving at the Olympic village. Playing warm up games, getting ready for the opening ceremony and then I get this kind of lump in my throat. Really sad I’m not going to be there.
I think I’m even more sad for the junior guys on our side who have never been to the Olympics. Because I’ve been so fortunate to have been to two already and I know what they’re going to miss out. Really, the experience, it’s indescribable, it’s incredible. My heart really breaks for those guys who have been working so hard and are going to miss out on that.
BB: The Olympics is special for many reasons, but obviously you play a lot of competitive hockey against other nations and you go to World Cups and that sort of thing. But the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, to an extent as well, it’s an opportunity for you to rub shoulders with stars from other codes. That’s what makes it pretty cool too doesn’t it?
AS: Most certainly, just walking around the Olympic village, I think that’s such a unique experience. You’re walking around athletes who are in peak physical condition and everybody is there because they are the best in the world. Even the World Cup hockey, it’s a big event. But you’re just there with hockey players.
Suddenly now at the Olympics you’re walking around the village and you’re going past 100m sprinters. What I always like to do, we walk past people and we try and guess which discipline they’re there to attend, just by their physical features, that’s something we used to do with our team. Just the atmosphere, the feeling that you get being in the village is absolutely incredible.
Moving forward personally and with the team
BB: Let’s talk beyond Rio, you mentioned the Commonwealth Games, the next one is coming up you said in 2018, it’s still a long way away. Obviously you guys have got a lot of work to do, but in the back of your mind and I know this is a tough question. Because you’ve been playing top hockey for a long time.
But there’s a Commonwealth Games on the horizon that’s going to be very South African, in Durban. Is the thought in your mind to stick around until that Austin, are you going to try? Physically it’s going to be tough, but is it possible?
AS: I think there’s two main challenges, there’s the physical challenge and then there’s also the kind of monetary challenge as well, for lack of another word. In the Netherlands I’m fortunate that I’m paid to play here professionally. But it’s not like I’m going to retiring at the end of my hockey career in the Netherlands and just living off my winnings. If I was a footballer, it would probably be a bit different.
Then the physical aspect, I noticed now, I mentioned to my girlfriend the other day as well, doing some pre-season training, that little voice in your head that says: Just quit, no one is around, they won’t know. That voice seems to come into your head quicker than it did when I was 22 and I was out training.
The physical aspect is certainly one that you have to look out for. I’m 31 now, so my next goal is World Cup and Commonwealth Games in two years’ time. You think it’s two years away, but qualifiers are already in seven or eight months’ time we’ve got qualifiers to qualify for the World Cup. The timeline gets shorter and shorter with every day.
BB: Any thoughts of life after hockey or is it still that fixed in your radar that you’re not even contemplating what you’re going to do afterwards?
AS: I’m definitely starting to think about it more and more, just a few months ago I completed my coaching qualification. The highest coaching qualification that they have here in the Netherlands, which was great. It was great to do and really interesting and very difficult in my second language Dutch. So that was a challenge, but I’m also a qualified teacher, so I still have a yearning to come back to South Africa and teach and to make a difference.
Especially growing up, I had a teacher called Murray Anderson who taught me at Pinelands North in Cape Town. He was an Olympic hockey player and a teacher and I saw the difference that he made as a role model in my life. I thought, at that moment I thought: I want to be an Olympian and I want to become a teacher. Because those people have the ability to really influence kid’s lives. I still have a passion to do that. If it’s in South Africa or the Netherlands or another country, I’d still love to do that.
Some short explosive bursts to possibly doing the Big C
BB: What a cool story and then Austin, just looking at being a South African and growing up here and back on the running trip. We chat to various athletes from various sporting codes, it’s a huge drive, I say drive, it’s a bit of a move at the moment within cycling circles. Ex professional cyclists who have now taken up running and not necessarily competitively. There are a few that are racing quite well.
But there’s lots of guys that have gone on and run the Old Mutual Two Oceans and Comrades and that sort of thing. Those races were institutions growing up in South Africa, we all watched it on TV as kids. Is that ever in your mind, like after hockey, to maybe do some ultras or does that not even cross your mind? Do you go: I don’t want to run that far, that’s crazy!
AS: That’s definitely crossed my mind more than once. I would love to take one on now, but I know that the training required to do something like an ultra is very different to the kind of training that I’m doing now. I’m more focusing on the short, explosive patterns, but later on I would love to do something like that.
My sister has gone running crazy, she’s done Comrades twice. She does probably on average two marathons a month and I think that’s where we’re lucky in CT and South Africa. There are so many beautiful routes and so many beautiful events.
The last time I was home in June I ran a trail run down in Stellenbosch and it feels so good to be out in the countryside, running up the mountain. Just the freshness and the feeling that you get is really amazing. If I come back to South Africa, I will most certainly be doing some trail running. Hopefully I can convince my body to get me through a marathon or even an ultra one day.
BB: You’ll have to come back and do hill training here, I know there’s not many hills in the Netherlands.
AS: Certainly not, the biggest hill I get is when I put the running machine on 10 degrees, but other than that, it’s pretty much flat.
BB: We’ve had a couple of guests here on the podcast in the build-up to Comrades and Two Oceans this year, funnily enough, based in the Netherlands. Two Dutch guys who came out and ran Comrades and they were telling me that their hill training consists of running up and down the bridge that crosses over the railway line in the town that they live in. There’s definitely not much hill training to do in the Netherlands, I know that for a fact.
AS: That’s absolutely correct. I have a lot of respect for guys who come from the Netherlands to go and run Comrades because having chatted to my sister about it, she said that there are some proper hills to get through there.
BB: Absolutely. Austin, best of luck with the upcoming season and we look forward to seeing you in the Green and Gold representing South Africa. I know the qualifiers, and as you say, even though the World Cups and the Commonwealth Games are a couple of years away. I know that the planning and all the preparation is in the forefront of everybody’s mind already. Best of luck with that, we look forward to seeing you representing South Africa out there on the pitch very soon.
AS: Cheers, thanks very much Brad, yes, I’m looking forward to the next phase.