Julian Matthews is off to compete at the Rio Olympics next month.

Julian Matthews’ long run to Rio

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Nelson 1500m runner Julian Matthews had a barbecue with Nick Willis and Hamish Carson to celebrate their Olympic selection last week.

For the first time in history, New Zealand will have three entrants in one of the blue riband track events.

The trio then spoke on the phone to Rod Dixon, the last Nelsonian to compete on the track, in 1972, when he won bronze.

“The three of us in the 1500m had a barbecue together to celebrate and Nick called Rod Dixon and we had a really nice speaker phone conversation with him,” Julian says. “You could tell by his voice that he was just as excited about it.

“We also spoke to Dick Quax and I know, for Hamish and I and probably Nick too, these guys are Gods so to have them be excited and proud of what we’ve achieved is just crazy.”

The 28-year-old’s first taste of running was at the Colgate Games as a 12-year-old.

He won silver in the 1500m and came second to All Black Ryan Crotty in the 800m.

“My primary school teacher at St Joseph’s is an avid runner, Mr Tim Cross, and I think he saw something in me at 12-years-old and put me on a training schedule for the South Island Colgate Games.”

Basketball was his major interest through to 17 until American university running coach from Texas Greg Lautenslager arrived in Nelson in 2002.

“Greg played a huge part in instilling the passion in me for running that eventually overran my enthusiasm for basketball.”

Julian has been based in America for the past eight years, pushing his running dream and getting a degree in economics.

He made the NCAA finals in 2010, running against the best collegiate runners in America.

Julian says he’s “just scraped by this year” financially, describing himself as a “second tier runner”.

“It’s hard to make ends meet when you aren’t competing at major events like the Diamond League meetings.”

A shoe sponsorship called Saucony has helped him through this year, along with help from Athletics New Zealand, to cover expenses.

“If I perform well then maybe I’ll get a grant from High Performance Sport New Zealand which would ease that burden.”

Julian says to compete in the black singlet in a marque Olympic event was an unbelievable feeling.

“You dream about it when you’re a kid but you can’t fathom how much time goes into getting to an Olympics.

“Now that I’m here and I can call myself an Olympian, it’s quite overwhelming.

“I’ve always been inspired by the likes of Jack Lovelock, Peter Snell, John Walker and Rod Dixon, so to wear that black singlet will be very special.”

Julian is currently in Flagstaff, Arizona, a high altitude training base for a lot of American athletes.

He finished 16th at the Beijing World Championships last year.

“In realistic terms, I was extremely happy with my performance last year based on the lack of preparation I had.

“Having hit the qualifier earlier in the season, I’ve been able to plan my programme towards getting through the rounds in Rio.

“I think making the final (top 12); I’d be very, very happy and once you’re in the final anything can happen when it comes down to tactics.” 

Julian returns to Nelson every summer and says the amount of support he’s received from home has been amazing.

“I know Nelson has some really good, young runners coming through, so if I can inspire someone and show them that you can make it to the big stage as they watch me on TV, that’d be great.”