From SA to NZ: Olivier brothers embrace Kiwi identity as they chase triple jump glory

Credit: Original article can be found here

Record-breaking Kiwi triple jumper Welré Olivier has long ago learned to rationalise the fact that anything he can do, his younger brother Ethan is already plotting to do even better. “The only more talented family in New Zealand is the Barrett brothers,” he declares with a smile, and only a hint of hyperbole.

Actually, the “in New Zealand” part is not strictly true. The Oliviers are indeed dual-national Kiwis, but they live – for now, anyway – in their parents’ homeland of South Africa, even if both brothers have declared their sporting allegiance with the silver fern.

And there can be no doubt that the rainbow nation’s loss is very much New Zealand’s gain as this special sporting family – the brothers are coached by their father, Wikus, a former South African record-holder, champion and Commonwealth Games representative for the triple jump – heads down what they all hope will be a runway paved with gold.

Let’s rewind the story a little, before we get up to date with these springy siblings. Back in 2002 Wikus and Tracey Olivier, and their 9-month-old boy Welré (pronounced Val-Ray), moved to New Zealand to start a new life. They set up home in the eastern suburbs of Auckland, and soon enough welcomed their own Kiwi baby to the fold in the form of Ethan.

But then, nearly eight years after their big move, family circumstances in South Africa forced them to return home, where they now reside in the city of Vereeniging, 60km south of Johannesburg. Welré, now 20 and at university in nearby Potchefstroom, and Ethan, who is 17 and in his final year at high school, have both grown into fine young men, and what you might call chips off the old block.

In fact, they’re already New Zealand’s finest and second finest triple jumpers of all time. Just a few months back Welré broke the national senior record that had stood for 45 years when he hopped, skipped and jumped out to 16.48 metres to obliterate Phil Wood’s old mark of 16.22m set in Canada in 1978. Since then he’s improved that to 16.59m at the South African national champs, and added a wind-assisted (so not legal) 16.91 metres at the same meet that suggests the 17-metre threshold is not far off.

New Zealand triple jump record-holder Welre Olivier in action in South Africa.


New Zealand triple jump record-holder Welre Olivier in action in South Africa.

Of course, Ethan has been nipping at his brother’s heels. The youngster, who represented New Zealand at last year’s under-20 worlds, has set and reset national under-18, 19 and 20 records all season as he, too, has added significant distance to his PB – now out to 16.41m (achieved last month), with a windy 16.81 also to his credit.

Remarkably, both are among a dozen conditionally selected athletes for August’s world championships in Budapest. They both need 16.65m jumps to seal their spots, and must also stay within the rankings cutoff of 36 – achievable, if tricky prerequisites. There is every chance these super siblings could make their debuts on the global senior stage alongside each other.

For Welré, at 20, it would be a fine achievement and testament to his progress, and potential, in the sport. But for Ethan, who would have to take time off school to attend, it would be nothing short of momentous. For now a boy among men, he is assuredly setting the stage for some special things to come.

“Brilliant,” Wikus tells Stuff from Vereeniging when asked to assess their respective seasons. “We started off first at a league meeting and they both broke New Zealand records – Ethan the under-18, 19 and 20 records, and Welré the senior record. Later at the SA champs Welré jumped the new senior record, and just a couple of weeks ago Ethan got out to 16.41 to extend those junior marks.”

Dad, and coach, has a fair idea of the trajectory these two are heading on. He knows it’s only a matter of time before he’s the third best triple jumper in the family, with his PB of 16.89m. “Give them another few weeks, or a season, and I’ll be hanging the bronze medal round my neck, and not the gold any more,” he says with a rueful smile.

“The aim is to be up there competing against the best. We didn’t focus on worlds for this year, and didn’t expect the boys to be in the conditional group. Welré is focused on the Paris Olympics next year, and Ethan is the right age for next year’s under-20 world champs again and we’re working towards that. This year is a total bonus.”

South Africa-based New Zealand triple jumper Ethan Olivier and his father and coach Wikus.


South Africa-based New Zealand triple jumper Ethan Olivier and his father and coach Wikus.

The dynamic is an interesting, and familiar one, with Welré setting the standard, and Ethan driven to catch up with his older brother. “They enjoy jumping against each other,” says Wikus. “There’s competition between them, but they support each other as well. They’re different personalities but on the track they bring the best out in each other. They’re blessed because their mum was a sprinter and I was a jumper, so they got it from both sides.”

Says Welré: “He’s like a wasp – no matter how hard you try to shake him, he always follows you. He brings out the best in me. There’s never been a moment I’ve hated competing with him. There have been a few when I’ve gone, ‘is it really necessary for him to be this good, so young?’

“We’ve always had banter. I’ll tell him he’s not going to get my records. But it pushes me. He’s always going to be there. If I break through and jump 17.30, he’s going to be jumping 17.29.”

Adds Ethan: “I’m not too fazed by it. I just try to do my best. All the records he had when he was younger, I’ve been trying to break all of them, and have been doing that for quite a while now.”

Welré Olivier says the presence of his younger brother nipping at his heels inspires him.


Welré Olivier says the presence of his younger brother nipping at his heels inspires him.

Welré: “It’s nice to perform well in your sport, but to have your blood next to you doing the same, it’s special. Records are meant to be broken but as long as they only have to change the first name, I’m OK with it.”

There are many similarities about these driven young athletes, but they’re also markedly different personalities. Wikus describes his oldest son as “jubilant” and expressive, whereas Ethan is more reserved, and “just gets into his stride and does his thing”.

You ask the brothers to describe their sibling. Welré uses an Afrikaans word. “We’d say he’s nors.(grumpy or moody). He doesn’t care about anything, except triple jump. When I was 17, I was like, I’ve got to be the cool kid, I’ve got to get the girls. That’s not him. He’s highly intelligent and it’s difficult to argue with him sometimes.”

Ethan: “I don’t want to say eccentric, but he’s very outgoing, always trying to get the crowd involved. He expresses himself a lot. He’s extroverted. I’m not one to yell at the crowd like that.”

It’s interesting that both have declared their allegiance to New Zealand. They each have vivid memories of early years in the country, and both yearn to return (Ethan for study, and Welré more likely for work). Ethan has already donned the fern at those world under-20s in Cali, where, as a 16-year-old, and youngest in the field, he finished fourth. Welré recently turned down an approach from South Africa to compete at the world student games.

Ethan Olivier: ‘All the records he had when he was younger, I’ve been trying to break all of them.’


Ethan Olivier: ‘All the records he had when he was younger, I’ve been trying to break all of them.’

Interestingly (especially for critics of Athletics NZ) both point to a greater appreciation for the ideologies, support and investment put into young athletes by the Kiwi governing body as major factors in embracing that side of their dual nationalities. They also, even from afar, feel the camaraderie and passion in teams wearing the fern. “I just feel like they’ve given me more opportunities, they’re more accommodating, and they’re willing to invest in their athletes,” says Welré. Ethan echoes his brother’s sentiments:

So how far can this dynamic duo go? Far, reckons dad. The 17m breakthrough is imminent for a pair well ahead of the curve, and that should soon have them in the mix at major events, he smiles.

“There’s nothing stopping them. A 20-year-old jumping 16.91, a 17-year-old 16.85 – that’s top 16 in the world already. It seems a big jump between 16.50 and 17.50, but if they stay healthy I can’t see any problem with that.”

Wikus has challenged his youngest son since he morphed from long to triple jump as a 13-year-old to match his age in metres. So far he’s kept pace, and has until early-August to keep the run going. “He’s 15cm from 17m and is only 17. It’s not too shabby.”

Dad has no concerns about Ethan lining up at the senior worlds either, should it transpire. “He’s very mature, very strong-minded … he can handle it. It’s a big step up but will be a great experience for a youngster.”

Triple jumping brothers Welre, left, and Ethan Olivier have both been conditionally selected for the world champs.


Triple jumping brothers Welre, left, and Ethan Olivier have both been conditionally selected for the world champs.

Welré’s journey has not been quite so smooth. He tried the US college route (at Northern Colorado), did not like it, bailed out, and only when he returned to South Africa did he start to see his distances climbing again. “I knew I could do it because of my training but it was nice to see it paying off. Big things are coming.”

He describes competing on the global stage as his “dream” and vows to do everything in his power to make it. “It’s not easy. It’s going to have to be my best (legal) jump, and to keep my ranking I’m going to have to jump those distances consistently.”

Ethan is “proud” of his selection and undaunted (he believes last year’s world under-20s prepared him perfectly). “I feel like the younger I start, the better because I’ll be used to the systems, to competing in big arenas, and be much more prepared for world champs where I can place higher.”

Both young men, naturally, feel comfortable being guided by dad. He’s got their backs, as athletes and sons. “He’s been there, done that and got the T-shirt,” says Welré. “It’s an ideal situation.” Ethan: “I understand everything he wants and means, and if anything goes wrong at training he doesn’t bring it home, so we can separate work from family life.”

They’re all eyeing potential returns to New Zealand too. Wikus has feelers out for work, Ethan is talking about studying engineering at university if he can get scholarship support and Welré wants to join them once he completes his degree in human movement sciences.

Their programmes for the rest of the year are fluid. With the South African season all but over, a Europe trip might be required to chase results needed for Budapest. Ethan likes that idea; Welré is a little more anxious about time away from his studies.

It’s enlightening to ask Ethan about the ingredients of a successful triple jump (essentially a hop, skip and a jump) – in his opinion, the third most complex of athletics’ field events, behind pole vault and hammer.

“Speed is most important, and you have to handle the impact,” he says. “You keep 90 degrees as long as possible in the air and try to extend your foot before you touch the ground. Footwork is vital because if you land flat-footed or too hard you lose all your momentum. You’ve got to keep your momentum forward, and on the end jump you’ve got to be as broad-chested as possible.”

Simple. How long then before Ethan outjumps big brother?

“Ahhhh,” he ponders. “Next weekend, I reckon.”

Double trouble in the triple jump.