A hot early pace and strong wind gusts denied Kiwi Olympian Nick Willis a stadium record at Cooks Gardens in Whanganui on Tuesday night , but he was more than happy with his performance in the 1500-metre main event at the Cooks Classic.

While there was no record for Willis, it was an excellent training run ahead of his upcoming international commitments.

Willis had hoped to break the 3m 38s track record for the Wanganui Toyota-sponsored 1500-metre race on the legendary Cook Gardens athletics venue. The record was set in 1984 by Aucklander Peter O'Donoghue.

The hot early pace from Theunis Pieters from Hamilton and a strong gusting wind put paid to a stadium record, although not by much.


Willis stopped the clock at 3.41.70 and immediately labelled it a good hard training run ahead of the North American Indoor Championships in Boston in 10 days time.

"Just what I wanted, a really good hitout," Willis said as he crouched in recovery post race.

"The purpose of my running here at Cooks Gardens and in Wellington (Capital Classic Saturday) was to get fit and prepare the mindset for the North American indoors on January 26 in Boston. The pace was probably a bit too strong early and then a couple of really strong gusts slowed momentum.

"These young guys really kept me honest tonight and I'm rapt with the effort."

Willis conceded he was not getting any younger, but felt in great order for the challenges ahead.

Pieters, as directed, set the pace with Willis hot on his heels and with around 800m the to go the champ took control dictating his own pace for the remainder of the race.

The younger brigade gave him no peace in front, but in the end Willis was simply too classy drawing away at the line to beat fellow Kiwi international Julian Oakley (3.42.26) and his Tauranga team mate Sam Tanner (3.43.01) by several lengths.

The only record to fall on the night was the Cooks Gardens high jump benchmark of 2.17m by Christchurch athlete Hamish Kerr.


Kerr leapt 2.22m in the Eyes on Victoria-sponsored event beating the old record set by Australian Chris Dodd in January 2015 and equalled by Kerr a month later that same year.

After breaking the record by 5cm, Kerr then had three close, but unsuccessful attempts at 2.26m. The New Zealand record is 2.30m held by retired Cantabrian Glen Howard.

Fourteen-year-old Sophie Williams franked her Colgate Games form with a determined, but narrow win over Genna Maples and Tayla Brunger in an all Whanganui finish to the Wanganui Collegiate School-sponsored Under-18 100m women's race.

Sophie Williams (second left) dips on the line to beat fellow Whanganui nationally ranked sprinters Genna Maples (right) and Tayla Brunger (left) in the U18 Women's 100m final at the Cooks Classic.
Sophie Williams (second left) dips on the line to beat fellow Whanganui nationally ranked sprinters Genna Maples (right) and Tayla Brunger (left) in the U18 Women's 100m final at the Cooks Classic.

By the 2018 year's end, the Whanganui trio were three of the top four in the country (Brunger at 1, Maples at 2 and Williams at 4) in under-18 100m rankings. Earlier this month, though, Williams took over the No1 mantle with her 12.11s run at the Colgate Games, a quicker time than any of the other two had run in 2018.

Maples led the field early over the 100m dash, but was just pipped on the line by Williams.

As expected Taranaki middle distance athlete Hannah O'Connor easily won the Phillips Electrical 3000m women's under-20 event. O'Connor led from the outset to easily account for her three rivals clocking 9.36.92, a little over five seconds outside her own 9.31.04 track record at Cooks Gardens.

The blustery conditions denied the youngster any chance of breaking that record.