As a youngster, New Zealand’s fastest woman Zoe Hobbs used to get so jittery before a race, she couldn’t eat.
In the first weekend of this year, Hobbs was at the Colgate Games in Inglewood, cheering the young athletes on.
“It took me back to the days when I couldn’t eat my breakfast on race day because I was so nervous,” she says.
Now, the 23-year-old has no problem devouring a race day breakfast of “proats” – protein, oats, banana and peanut butter.
In fact, she’s become a bit of an expert on the subject of fuelling your body – she’s in her final year of university studies in human nutrition and is on the verge of launching an athlete nutrition business.
But first she’s focused on exploding out of the starting blocks, and qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.
And explode out of the blocks she has – setting a new 100m New Zealand residents record in a time of 11.35 seconds to open her season a fortnight ago.
Shaving 0.02s off her old record and personal best, Hobbs is now on a mission to break Michelle Seymour’s longstanding national record of 11.32s, set in Melbourne in 1993.
Hobbs says her record race at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium didn’t feel that fast and there’s plenty of room for improvement, particularly in her start.
“My main goal was to really go through my race process ahead of the Classics series,” she says. “I’m stoked to open my season with a personal best and I can’t wait to get back out there again.”
A world championship representative in 2019 and the national U20 and U18 100m record holder, Hobbs will race in the Athletics New Zealand Classic series meetings in both the 100m and 200m, building up to the national track and field championships in Hawkes Bay in early March.
This season she and coach James Mortimer have been more strategic about which meets and distances she opts for, to give her the best chance to qualify for the Olympic Games in July.
“Last year I raced in Canberra over 100 and 200m, then three days later I did a 200m at Porritt Stadium in Hamilton. I was recovered enough, so we’ve learnt we need to be more targeted in the races I choose,” Hobbs says.
“To qualify for the Olympics, I will need to nail every race.”
The Tokyo 2020 automatic qualifying standard is 11.15 seconds; alternatively Hobbs can qualify through the World Athletics ranking points system.
“If I achieve my Olympic dream it will be unreal,” she says.
The Massey University student is confident the games will go ahead and says she’s training and competing until she officially hears otherwise.
As a five-year-old growing up in Taranaki, Hobbs watched her older brother Connor do athletics and was keen to follow in his footsteps.
“I remember going to watch him at the Colgate Games and I kept saying to my parents how much I wanted to be out there too,” she says.
She admits her brother still claims ‘fastest in the family’ bragging rights, as he quit the sport before she officially went past him.
The one-year postponement in the Olympic Games turned out to be a good thing for Hobbs – giving her more time to put in the work required to make the step up to the Olympic team.
“After competing at the 2019 world champs I felt really rushed in my preparation for last season. Hopefully we never have to do an eight-month off-season again,” Hobbs says with a laugh.
The long break of no international travel also allowed Hobbs to focus on her studies in human nutrition and collaborate on an athlete nutrition business, which she hopes to launch at the end of the year.
After a slight knee injury last September, Hobbs has paid extra attention to looking after her body – prioritising recovery and nutrition outside of training.
“My knees are great now, but it was a bit of a wakeup call for me,” she says.
“The loads we put our bodies under to go fast are huge, and I’ve realised what I do outside of training matters just as much as inside of training.”
Mortimer, a former world championship and Commonwealth Games representative sprinter and hurdler, is quick to praises Hobbs’ work ethic.
“Zoe is a smart athlete, who’s always starting her season faster than what people expect – mainly because she doesn’t like to miss opportunities to run fast,” he says.
“With the niggles she faced last year, Zoe saw an opportunity to get her body right and tick some boxes that will take her to the heights she wants to reach.”
Hobbs is at the forefront of a group of young female sprinters who have the potential to qualify for major championships as a 4x100m relay team.
Joining Hobbs are her training partners Georgia Hulls and Symone Tafuna’i, as well as Natasha Eddy and Brooke Somerfield.
“We really need to capitalise on the quality of our group and keep working together to qualify for major events.”
The Kiwi women will aim to get the baton around successfully at the International Track Meet in Christchurch on February 6.
The Christchurch meeting will be Hobbs’ next race – after competing last weekend at the Potts Classic in Hastings and winning the 100m in 11.57 seconds.
Mortimer says unfortunately the wind in Hastings didn’t play in Hobbs’ favour, but he’s confident in her current form she will surpass her personal bests, pushing hard for Tokyo selection.
“It’s great to be at a point with an athlete that on race day, you can sit back and watch them run fast, knowing they have it under control.”
Normally Hobbs would race in Australia throughout the summer season to gain further competition in good sprinting conditions – hot and a slight tail wind (not greater than +2.0m/s) is what sprinters are after.
“I would love to go but finding a spot in MIQ, and other logistics, it’s not looking promising,” she says.
It’s the competition and her training environment which Hobbs loves most about sprinting.
“You’ve got to show up – there’s no hiding in athletics – you’re either on or you’re not.”