Valerie Adams' return to competition and the clash of Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill will place shot put as the key event at the New Zealand track and field championships at the Caledonian Ground Dunedin this week.
Promoted locally as 'the road to Rio runs through Dunedin' the championships also give the opportunity for a number of others to clinch a qualifying performance for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games or the world junior championships.
For Adams, Walsh and Gill it will be their final hit out before travelling to the States and the world indoor championships in Portland Oregon starting on March 17.
The twice Olympic champion, four times world champion and three times world indoor champion Adams had her first competitive outing in seven months at last Thursday's Auckland Track Challenge where she broke the ice with a put of 18.85m.
Adams is set to claim her 14th shot put title and 15th overall national title. Te Rina Keenan will not be defending her shot put title won last year in Wellington with 15.03m. There are only two others entered, Lauren Bruce and American Kasandra Vegas, in the women's shot put timed for 1.30pm on Sunday.
Walsh will be aiming for his seventh shot title at lunch time Friday before flying out to Melbourne to compete in the IAAF world challenge meeting on Saturday evening. Walsh claimed back the New Zealand resident record from Gill last Thursday with a put of 20.91m, eclipsing Gill's 17 day old record of 20.83m.
A national title has eluded Rochelle Coster over the years of competing at the nationals and the silver medallist in the 100m in 2012 and 2014 will be keen to make amends when she lines up against Kelsey Berryman, Abby Goldie and Fiona Morrison in the 100m and Morrison, Berryman, Veronica Torr and Leanna Ryan in the 100m hurdles. Berryman is the defending 100m champion and Morrison is three times previous winner in the hurdles.
The most exciting finish in the sprints is likely to be in the women's under 20 with four of the top six fastest women this year entered. Zoe Hobbs has improved with each race, Lucy Sheat has excelled, setting personal bests in the 100m and 200m, Georgia Hulls has a best of 11.78 from the Potts Classic and Olivia Eaton comes into the reckoning with a best of 11.97. These four will also contest the 200m which should produce an equally stunning finish.
With Joseph Millar, competing in Melbourne, James Mortimer, attending a wedding and title holder Kodi Harman injured, the senior men's 100m should be a close contest between Daniel O'Shea, Matthew Wyatt, Michael Goldie and Alex Jordan. O'Shea, twice 400m hurdles champion, recorded a personal best of 10.70 at the recent Otago championships, his quickest in over two years. Goldie should win the 200m title from a small field of five.
Camille Buscomb will be going for her third straight 5000m title and is likely to be challenged by Lucy Oliver, with both athletes wanting to post a Rio qualifying time of 15:18.00. Buscomb will be back in action on Sunday competing alongside Angie Petty in the 1500m.
Louise Jones, four times national 400m champion will be after title number five and she is also entered in the 200m which she won in 2014. Andrew Whyte, winner of the 400m in 2013 should return to the top placing on the podium ahead of Frazer Wickes and Scott Burch.
The men's 5000m has lost some of its shine with Malcolm Hicks and Aaron Pulford competing in Melbourne, leaving the way for a close battle between Jono Jackson, Joshua Baan, Oska Inkster-Baynes, Alex Parlane and Hayden McLaren. Jackson was the 2011 junior 5000m champion.
Matthew Bloxham who last year unseated long standing champion Philip Jensen returns to defend his hammer throw title and like Walsh is also down to compete in Melbourne the next day.
Mariah Ririnui should regain the long jump title. The winner in 2013 and 2014 was beaten in the opening round last year by Portia Bing who was out to 6.23m to Ririnui's 6.12m.
Te Rina Keenan and Siositina Hakeai go head to head in the women's discus. Hakeai has won the title for the last four years. The close rivalry between them has seen Hakeai ahead five to two in their seven outings this year. Marshall Hall should make it title number seven in the men's discus.
Joshua Hawkins who has a best of 13.69 in the 110m hurdles will be defending his title as he chases a Rio qualifying time of 13.47.
Angie Petty should collect title number five in the women's 800m, with Brad Mathas also chasing five years in a row in the senior 800m. Competition for Mathas will come from Theunis Pieters and Josh Ledger.
Julia Ratcliffe has had limited opportunities to take out the hammer title due to her scholarship in the States. The two time winner in 2011 and 2012 has been improving all season and will be wanting to throw an all-comers record of over 69.63m as well as giving the Rio B standard of 71.00m a nudge. Ratcliffe has a best of 70.28m.
Eliza McCartney should retain her pole vault title. McCartney recently raised the national record to 4.71m and has been added to the team to the world indoor championships. Nicholas Southgate has title number four in his sights in the men's pole vault, as has Elizabeth Lamb in the women's high jump. Matthew Wyatt will be wanting better conditions than last year in Wellington as he sets out to regain the senior long jump title. Wyatt will be after the double in the triple jump however Scott Thomson has been out to 15.22m this year. Anna Thomson is in line for her first national women's triple jump crown. With Tori Peeters missing from the javelin through injury Stephanie Wrathall has a slight edge over Laura Overton for the title.
Mackenzie Keenan is down to compete in Melbourne putting former champion Zoe Ballantyne in contention for the 400m hurdles title against Anna Percy. The men's 400m hurdles should be a cracker of a race between Tama Toki, Phil Simms, Campbell Wu and Daniel Dyet. Toki won the 400m flat title last year.
Hamish Carson should take out the senior 1500m for the fifth time. While Adams is competing in the shot put on Sunday Stuart Farquhar will be on the adjoining run way aiming for his 16th javelin throw title.
Courtney Ruske should win the women's 3000m track and 20km road walk titles with Jonathon Lord chasing the same double in the senior men. Sixty two year old Mike Parker is the defending title holder in the 3000m and 42 year old Graeme Jones the defending champion in the 20km. Jack Beaumont steps up to the senior 3000m steeplechase after winning the youth 2000m steeples in 2014 and the junior title last year.
Para-athletics world championship medallists Anna Grimaldi (long jump), Rory McSweeney (javelin), Hollie Robinson (javelin) and Jess Hamill (shot put) along with rising stars Liam Malone, William Stedman and Jacob Phillips will compete in strong sprinting, jumping and throwing fields across the three days, with Rio 2016 Paralympic spots the ultimate goal for the season.
Friday's competition starts at 8.45am, Saturday 9am, and Sunday with the walks at 8am and the field with the women's under 18 hammer throw at 8.55am.