Athletics: Face of Rio on track for classic

By Anendra Singh

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MAGNETIC: Athletics New Zealand's poster girl, Eliza McCartney, will be signing autographs at the Potts Classic in Hastings this Saturday. PHOTO/NZME.
MAGNETIC: Athletics New Zealand's poster girl, Eliza McCartney, will be signing autographs at the Potts Classic in Hastings this Saturday. PHOTO/NZME.

Eliza McCartney isn't going to plant, take off, swing up, extend, turn and fly away at the end of a pole just yet but the hottest property in athletics is booked to jet into Hastings for the annual Allan and Sylvia Potts Memorial Classic in this Saturday.

Pole-vaulting sensation McCartney and fellow Rio Olympics medallist Nick Willis will be the headline acts as the code's ambassadors for the 18th edition of the classic to be staged at the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park.

"Eliza's coming but, unfortunately, she's not competing but she will be at the ground signing autographs, along with Nick Willis, who won't be running either," says meeting manager Richard Potts, the son of the late Allan and Sylvia Potts.

Willis has been a familiar face at the classic for the past few years and competed in last year's classic when he comfortably beat Brad Mathas (Canterbury University) and Willis' training partner, Craig Huffer (Australia).

The 33-year-old Rio bronze medallist and Beijing silver medallist had competed in Hastings for the first time since he was at the venue for its official opening in 2008.

It's not confirmed if McCartney will be here for the last hour of the children's meeting, which starts at midday and goes until 3pm, but the Auckland University student will certainly be present for the entire seniors' proceedings from 5pm to 7.30pm.

She will be part of an Auckland contingent of pole vaulters who will train at the Hastings park from next week under the tutelage of their coach, Jeremy McColl.

"They will be at the Hawke's Bay park for five days and then head off to Wellington to compete," says Potts.

McCartney burst into Kiwi folklore after taking the Olympics stage by storm last winter when she emulated her personal best (PB) of 4.8m to eclipse Australian rival Alana Boyd, who cleared 4.81m, for bronze by virtue of flawless jumps earlier.

In doing so she earned the distinction of becoming only the fourth Kiwi to win a medal in a field event.

The 20-year-old from Devonport soon had many in the country Googling pole vault.

As it turned out, McCartney's effervescent personality captured not just the nation but had an infectious global appeal.

However, the pole-vaulting bragging rights will still be hotly vied for among budding national talent.

Olivia McTaggart, of Auckland, who recently smashed McCartney's under-18 record at the beginning of the season there, is the one to watch.

The Kristin School student vaulted to 4.3m, equalling McCartney's NZ Secondary Schools' height of 4.1m on the way to winning at the Waitakere meeting. Her effort is fourth on the all-time national list.

Imogen Ayris, of Takapuna Grammar, where McCartney also received her education, and Kazaya Vos, of Rangitoto College, are among the other emerging talent.

The 800m track races are the most popular this year, with 40 in the field for the men alone who will take their marks in three to fours races to make the cut.

"In the women's 800 we have 24 entries there so we'll have two races there."

Angela Petty (nee Smit), who has a record seven crowns in the inaugural marquee race, will have Katherine Marshall (nee Camp) nipping at her heels again although Ariana Harper, of Wellington, should be in the mix to see who can break Petty's shackles of domination.

The 25-year-old Rio Olympian from Canterburyclocked 2:03.43 last year but Marshall, who has registered a personal best time of 2:02.7, looms as a threat.

Harper was breathing down Petty's neck all the way last year but the latter shrugged her off in the last 200m.

Harper, 21, from Wellington Scottish Athletics Club, clocked a PB of 2:07.68 at the classic last year and is equally adept in the 1500m distance.

However, Petty's PB over 800m is 1:59.06, a time she clocked in the gold medal-winning performance at the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea, in July 2015.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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