ATHLETICS: Gold medallist boosts Twilight

By Kelly Exelby

Last year, they scored an Olympic silver medallist. Tomorrow, organisers of the Tauranga Twilight athletics meeting have arguably gone one better.
Wellington's Tim Prendergast, who won the 800m gold medal in 2004 Paralympics in Athens, has bolstered a classy middle-distance field for the annual New Year's Day carnival.
A year after the new all-weather track was graced by Beijing 1500m silver-medallist Nick Willis, 31-year-old Prendergast - who has just 5 per cent sight - will step out on to the venue to compete in an invitation 1500m race.
His good mate, Ben Ruthe, has set up the field, with himself and Gareth Hyett pacing, to help Prendergast prepare for the world paralympic championships in Christchurch in late January.
"It's a pretty star-studded pace-making line-up with a few national titles between those guys so the pressure will be on," Prendergast, with a best time of 3mins 51.37secs, noted. "I'm hoping to run around 3:55, which will give me a great indication of where I'm at and it's really good of the guys to come out on New Year's Day to help me with my campaign because it will be invaluable."
Young Tauranga Boys' College star Julian Oakley will also run the 1500m, hoping to bust under 4mins for the first time, but Ruthe has deliberately kept the numbers down.
"I've got peripheral vision so I can get around without having a guide but Ben's going to be there pacing me through," Prendergast said.
"The difficulties may come in bunch running and perceiving distances between guys around me but the field sounds pretty small tomorrow which will be perfect."
The captain of the New Zealand Paralympic team won't be the only athlete lining up with plenty of international experience.

Commonwealth Games decathlon silver medallist Brent Newdick is also returning, with the former Tauranga star entered in a handful of field events.
Newly-crowned national secondary school sprint champion Joseph Millar will resume his battle with Rotorua training partner Ryan Howe, who was third in the 100m schools final earlier this month in Hastings.
New Zealand cross-country champion Alex Parlane highlights a classy 800m field, along with Waiuku's Michael Whitehead, who was second only to Willis in that distance last year.
Athletics Tauranga has also put on a hammer throw tomorrow, expecting to attract Hamilton 17-year-old Julia Ratcliffe, who this month became just the second New Zealand woman to send the hammer out over 60 metres.
Tauranga Ramblers masters star Sally Gibbs will also go searching for more New Zealand records, while Tim Hawkes - who won the 800m title here two years ago - will chase the 400m title this time around.
Prendergast, who is coached by Willis' brother Steve, flew into the country yesterday after spending Christmas in Australia.
The budding sportsman began losing his sight at 8 with the hereditary condition Stagardts and, by the time he was in his teens, had only peripheral vision remaining.
He switched to the only sport he could still compete in, meeting fellow runner Ruthe at Wellington Boys' College.
He's spent nearly four years in Britain working for a youth trust promoting sporting achievement in schools, based in London where the freezing winter has made recent training tough.
"The outdoor tracks have been closed for the last couple of weeks and I've been training indoors and on treadmills so it's just lovely to turn up here and train on a calm summer morning."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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