Athletics: Local athletics set for huge kickstart

By Cameron Leslie

This weekend marks the beginning of a new era as Whangarei's ASB Sports Arena hosts an Athletics Auckland competition, the biggest athletics event to visit Whangarei in about 30 years.

Back then, though, Athletics Whangarei would hire a DC3 plane to transport competitors from the Waikato and Bay of Plenty region, and 3000 spectators would turn out to support Northlanders at the old Okara Park.

"We had a good bunch of guys back then," Whangarei athletics legend Ian Babe remembers.

"Athletics Whangarei hired it [the plane]. We sold off a bunch of cows to pay for it."

However, this time around there won't be any planes hired. Instead, athletes will be welcomed by a first class facility ready to make its senior track and field debut.

Athletics Whangarei chairman, and coach, Chris Portch said having athletes come north is an opportunity to cement the ASB Sports Arena as a regular on the athletics calendar.

"Basically we are now in a position with the completion of the sports arena to be able to stage this sort of meeting, which is sanctioned by Athletics Auckland and Athletics New Zealand," said Portch.

"The reality is that if it does go well, it would be nice to think it would, we will be able to repeat this in subsequent seasons," said Portch.

"Certainly from experience, and the way things are going, there's no reason why we can't stage our own technical senior race meeting later."

Usually Northland athletes are forced to travel to Auckland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty to get tough competition because most of our top athletes are already the best in Northland.

Portch said this weekend's competition will be especially good for local athletes who will be making their debut in senior competitions in front of a supportive home crowd.

"I'm sure we will get a good turnout, [but] we won't know as entries don't close until Friday so it's hard to say. On the back of a holiday there may be a number of athletes who won't want to compete," said Portch.

Among the Athletics Whangarei athletes in action will be current Athletics New Zealand national women's 17-year-old high jump champion Riana Phillips.

Also competing will be up-and-comer Amanda Still, 14, who is likely to contest the under-18 1500m - an event where she is nationally ranked with her recent G14 Athletics Northland Record - and Imogen Hull who will be targeting her Athletics Northland Record in the 5000m.

Another up-and-comer, Madi Doar, will be looking to follow up her recent win in the under-14 2000m at the 'Night of 5s' meeting in Auckland.

- Northern Advocate

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