Athletics: Five must-see events at the Auckland Track Challenge

By Steve Landells

Valerie Adams of New Zealand competes in the Womens Shot Put. Photo / Getty Images
Valerie Adams of New Zealand competes in the Womens Shot Put. Photo / Getty Images

The second Auckland Track Challenge rolls into town on Thursday February 25. Here are five absolutely must-see reasons for attending the athletics extravaganza at Douglas Track and Field in Waitakere.

1 - Valerie Adams
The return of the two-time Olympic and seven-time world champion (indoors and out) for her first competitive appearance in Auckland for three years - is keenly anticipated. Following eight years of global domination the shot put superstar last year relinquished her number one spot and surrendered her 56-meet unbeaten record following double-surgery. However, 31-year-old Kiwi legend is back and all eyes will be on her as she marked her first competitive appearance of 2016 on a road which she hopes will lead to a third-straight Olympic crown in Rio.

2 - Tom Walsh v Jacko Gill
Few rivalries have captivated the New Zealand public quite like that of the world-class Kiwi shot put pairing of Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill and another clash between the pair will make for compelling viewing.

A question mark hangs over Walsh's participation following a recent hip injury which forced him to withdraw from The Big Shot event in Christchurch, but the Cantabrian is hopeful he will be in shape to compete. There are no such doubts surrounding Gill, who in Walsh's absence, hurled the 7.26kg metal ball out to a new personal best of 20.83m at The Big Shot. Damien Birkinhead leads the Aussie challenge fresh off the back of a lifetime best 20.80m in Christchurch.

3 - Eliza McCartney v Alana Boyd
Two athletes at different ends of the age spectrum but clearly in the form of their life could well provide one of the highlights of the evening. Experienced 31-year-old Aussie Alana Boyd, a two-time Commonwealth champion, last month eclipsed her own Australian pole vault record with a world-class 4.77m (a performance which exceeded the 2012 Olympic gold medal leap) and she will clearly be looking to build upon her 3-1 head-to-record against her Kiwi rival Eliza McCartney. However, the 19-year-old from Takapuna is gaining an increasingly impressive profile of her own evinced by a world junior record in December and an improvement on her national record with a 4.65m vault in Brisbane - her one previous defeat of Boyd.

4 - Angie Petty v the Aussies
Expect the women's 800m to throw up another intriguing Trans-Tasman battle with World University Games champion Angie Petty leading the home contingent. The Christchurch-based athlete continues to go from strength-to-strength under the wily coaching of Maria Hassan and she has made an encouraging start to the season with her seventh-straight 800m success at the Potts Classic. Her personal best of 1:59:06 set when taking World University gold in Korea last year marks her out as clear favourite but she will be far from complacent. Among her main contenders will be two-time Aussie champion Brittany McGowan, who boasts a respectable PB of 2:01.26 and who has got the better of Petty on two of their five previous 800m battles. Look out also Aussie Selma Kajan - a 2:01.96 performer at her best.

5 - Women's discus
In terms of strength in depth, the women's discus represents one of the highlights of the meeting. Leading the way is Australia's 2009 World champion Dani Samuels, who is making her first appearance in New Zealand for six years. The powerful Commonwealth champion boasts a lifetime best of 67.99m and will keen to stamp her mark on the competition on her road to Rio. Standing in her way desperate to claim her scalp will be top Kiwi duo Te Rina Keenan and Siositina Hakeai. Keenan, who placed 18th at last year's World Championships, has made an encouraging start to the season with a 58.72m effort in Hastings. Meanwhile Hakeai, the fourth place finisher at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and reigning New Zealand champion with a best of 59.81m, is sure to also be a factor. Watch out too for England's Jade Lally, the Commonwealth bronze medallist, who returns to the Auckland Track Challenge for the second successive year.

- NZ Herald

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