There will not be much time to relax or celebrate the New Year for Whanganui athletes and officials who have a very busy and exciting start to 2019.
Cooks Gardens will feature in so much of the athletics action in the next three months with almost 30 competitive events to be held on our world class facility.
The list of events includes two major national/international events, the New Zealand Masters Games, the weekly club nights and the championships of all our local secondary schools culminating in the Whanganui Secondary Schools Championships on Wednesday, March 13.
Club nights start next Tuesday and even though many athletes are still out of town on holiday it provides a great opportunity for a competitive start to 2019 and is especially valuable for locals intending to compete at the New Zealand Masters Games at the start of February. Each of the club nights feature masters' events.
Only a week later (Tuesday, January 15) Cooks Gardens hosts the Cooks Classic which is the first major event in the North Island of 2019. It is the first of the lower North Island Classic events the Capital Classic in Wellington three days later with the series ending in Hastings on the following weekend (January 26).
The Cooks Classic features the New Zealand under 20 men and women's 3000m championship which has local interest in both.
The Classic also features the finals of the popular "Fastest Kid on the Block" and ends with a classy 1500 metre race in which three-time Olympic finalist and double Olympic medal winner Nick Willis has a realistic chance of pocketing the stadium record bonus on his return to Cooks Gardens.
Willis will not be the only athlete chasing the generous stadium record bonus as in the snappy 100-minute programme many of the impressive records will be under threat by several leading New Zealand athletes.
Our leading athletes as mentioned earlier only have three days rest before they are back in action at Newtown Stadium. The combination of these two Classic meets have attracted athletes from throughout New Zealand including a small group of athletes on the Aspiring Athletes Tour to take this early year opportunity.
The start of February sees the return f the New Zealand Masters Games with events over Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd February concluding with an early evening event on Monday 4th February.
The Games are important for Whanganui and it is hoped that the new programming including the Monday evening programme will again prove popular.
February also features the Manawatu/Whanganui Championships shared by Whanganui and Palmerston North clubs with Whanganui hosting the event at our club night on February 12 and Palmerston North hosting a fortnight later.
The Cooks Classic in January ends with the 1500 metres, as mentioned above, rather than the traditional mile. The Mile, however, will feature in the Sir Peter Snell Meeting on Saturday, March 2 which will feature an international field striving to add their names to the sub 4 -minute milers at the famous track. More details will be released about this event soon.
The New Year provides huge opportunities for our athletes. Our five New Zealand title winners hope to retain titles while a large group of silver and bronze medal winners hope to mount higher steps on the podium.
Members of our New Zealand medal winning relay teams who have not yet won an individual medal have this as one of their 2019 goals.
The New Year provides the opportunity for the emergence of new faces and opportunities for athletes such as Paris Munro, Jonathan Maples, Connor Munro, William Sinclair and Lucy Brown who featured in finals at the recent New Zealand Secondary Schools to make that breakthrough.
Whanganui will welcome Andres Hernandez from Christchurch. Hernandez had expressed a wish to train with his New Zealand School team mates Liam Back, Zach Bellamy and Sarah Lambert at Collegiate next year.
The 16 -year old Hernandez is a starter in the NZ under 20 3000m championship at the Cooks Classic on January 15 when he will make his first appearance in Whanganui colours.
He will also run the 1500m in Wellington three days later. Hernandez tops the 2018 under 18 rankings over 3000 metres following a late November performance in a twilight meet in Christchurch.
The team captain of the recent New Zealand Schools Track & Field Team at the Australian Schools Championships in Cairns last month adds real depth to a strong Wanganui Collegiate middle- distance squad and will add spice and interest to middle distance events at Cooks Gardens this coming year.