New Year is traditionally a time for reflection back on the year past but more importantly a time to look forward to the challenges of the year ahead.
The challenges for Athletics Wanganui start very early in the year. Next Tuesday (January 10) senior club nights resume and one week later we host the traditional Cooks Classic on Tuesday, January 17 with an action-packed 105 minutes of international track and field.
Only 17 days later local officials will be back in action hosting the athletics section of the NZ Masters Games.
The mid-January Classic series has become an important start to the year's athletics scene and the format of three quality meetings over a week allows athletes the chance for vital competition ahead of major events in February and March culminating in the New Zealand Championships in late March.
The innovative "Jumps to Music" in Hawera where triple and high jumpers are introduced by chosen theme music is placed just 48 hours before the Classic series allowing athletes to use the novel event as an entrée to the main course of the Classic series to follow.
The Potts Classic featuring the Sylvia Potts memorial 800 metres on Saturday, January 14 opens the series. A group of 10 Australian athletes including leading 800 metre athlete and Australian World Championship representative Alexander Rowe who has a 1 minute 44 second 800 metres to his name will travel with the group from Hastings to Whanganui for the Cooks Classic three days later and will conclude their tour at the Capital Classic on the 20th.
Also touring will be the Aspiring Athletes touring party of leading New Zealand Junior athletes who gained eligibility for the Tour in December at the New Zealand Secondary Schools. The Tour has evolved from the Young Olympian Camps and Tours started back in 1990. The Tour gives touring and competition for our leading school age athletes.
We are also hosting other touring groups including a group of Japanese middle distance runners based at Massey University this month, two international Singaporean hurdler/sprinters who will compete individually and combine in the popular 2x100 relay which brings leading sprinters in high speed action.
They will have competition from leading New Zealand sprinters travelling with relay coach Kerry Hill working towards the World University Championships later in the year.
Local interest will come from combinations from the New Zealand Schools record breaking champions.
The traditional mile will end the Cooks evening at 9pm and while record breaking Nick Willis will not be running organisers hope that there will be additions to the impressive record breaking 63 athletes who have set the sub 4 minute mark at the famous venue.
The Classic will also feature two winner takes all handicap events - the 400 metres and the Javelin.
Both the events pit men against women. In the 400 metres seconds are deducted from the finishing time and in javelin metres will be added to performances. The distances added and the seconds deducted are based on recent rankings. All athletes have a chance of taking the prize.
The Javelin will put Olympic para silver medal winner Holly Robinson against promising Manawatu thrower, now based in Hamilton, Ben Langton-Burnell who last month was only 20 centimetres shy of breaking the 80 metre barrier. Langton-Burnell looks set to fill the large shoes left by the retiring and long term Olympian and training partner Stuart Farquahar. Langton- Burnell will have to be up to his very best if he is to pocket the prize money against a strong field.
Some of our younger athletes will be in action this weekend at the annual Colgate Games in Hastings. Wanganui will be represented by our largest group for some years and will be headed by New Zealand Schools junior gold medal winners Genna Maples and Tayla Brunger who both returned with medals last year.
The difference this year is that as secondary school athletes they were in national competition only five weeks ago at the NZ Schools Championships where both won gold medals.
It is especially pleasing that relay teams will be fielded and athletes have moved up age grades to produce a strong 4x100 combination.
Fourteen-year-old Cullinane student Makaia Matthews and 12-year-old Paris Munro who starts at Whanganui High School this year will join the successful Wanganui Collegiate pair of Brunger (14) and Maples (13). The combination looks good in practice runs and the experience brought by the Collegiate pair should make the combination competitive.
New Year is also a time for setting resolutions. Organisers of all three meetings hope athletes make a resolution of getting entries in early. The organisers of all three meets face the annual problem of a very late rush of entries for the Classic series. Numbers are again building rapidly.