The next few days feature two personally significant anniversaries.
The first is it is 18 years since I started writing this column and the second is next Monday, the 41st annual Round the Lake Relay.
The first column I wrote in Melbourne while enjoying a weekend at the IAAF Final, the predecessor of the current Diamond League Final. There are now two major meetings, the first was in Zurich last Friday and the second in Brussels this weekend in preparation for the World Championships in Doha.
The one in Melbourne was just the single three-hour meeting which featured a host of world record-holders and 12 Olympic champions returning to Australia a year after the Sydney Olympics.
It was a fabulous and memorable afternoon. I also remember with amusement that the preview of this world event filled one page of the Melbourne newspaper whereas the AFL semifinals on over the same weekend were featured in 14 other pages.
Initially I only wrote in the summer months with only the occasional article over the winter. When my late colleague Peter Irvine started writing on rowing and produced a quality column all year I felt the pressure and wrote all year. I enjoy the opportunity to recognise and publicise the remarkable performances of our young athletes.
It was the desire to provide and excite young athletes that led to the establishment of Round the Lake Relay back in 1978.
As a student at Loughborough a highlight of the winter calendar was the annual Hyde Park Relays. The event, in early February, brought over 100 teams from universities to run a relay around the Serpentine Lake at Hyde Park. The three-mile lap for each runner always excited and we relished the support of not only teammates but also the many park users.
It was on a Sunday walk around Virginia Lake that I hatched the idea of setting up a Schools Relay. About a dozen schools and a total of 58 teams took to the start line on a chilly July day in a race won on the anchor leg by Dean Crowe (later to run for Oceania) overhauling a 150-metre deficit to give Wanganui Boys College a win over the hosts Wanganui Collegiate.
The event grew rapidly and by the mid to late eighties we attracted over 40 schools including one from the USA and Australia with close to 200 teams competing in the four races in 1987.
With the advent of the four-term year the event was moved to early September. The September date does not suit all schools and there has been a slight drop in number of entries. However, the event has continued to attract many schools and athletes. The combination of the venue and the enjoyment of the relay format has ensured the enduring popularity of the event.
The 2019 edition has attracted 125 teams from 25 schools which is only lightly below last years total. Wellington College and New Plymouth Boys High school again have the most teams. Napier Girls High School have travelled furthest with Taranaki providing the most schools competing. The reason for this year's drop is a relatively poor entry from local secondary schools.
Wellington East Girls will be spearheaded by Kirstie Rae who won the New Zealand Schools and the New Zealand and Australian under 20 Championships. She will be chasing the record set last year by Hannah O'Connor.
The fastest lap award goes to the fastest in lap 1 of the senior races and after three years of O'Connor wins the Bates-sponsored prize will go to a different recipient.
In the boys Andres Hernandez will run the opening leg for Collegiate with last year's fastest Liam Back, who is recovering from illness, will run the anchor leg. Hernandez finished one place below Matt Rowe of New Plymouth Boys High School in Australia and would love to turn the table at the Lake.
It is the team aspect that brings so many runners year after year to Whanganui's iconic venue. The host Collegiate team will start as favourite in the Senior boys although the large Wellington College and New Plymouth teams will produce strong opposition and the large schools will be favoured in the Junior and Year 9 races.
The Senior Girls should be a tight race between Wellington East, Wellington Girls, New Plymouth, Palmerston North and the hosts Whanganui Collegiate. Collegiate field the national winning team in the Juniors but all team members will have just returned from Tournament Week and might face a tight struggle.
The first of four races commence at 1.40pm on Monday with the three subsequent races following at 40 minute intervals with the Senior Boys race at 3.50pm.
1.15pm Manager's meeting at Lake side ALL MUST ATTEND
1.40pm Race 1 — Year 9 Girls, Intermediate School Girls and Junior B Girls*
2.25pm Race 2 — Year 9 Boys, Intermediate School Boys and Junior B Boys*
3.10pm Race 3 — Junior A Girls and Senior Girls
3.15 pm Presentation of Prizes for Intermediate Schools at Virginia Lake
3.55pm Race 4 — Junior A Boys and Senior Boys
4.45pm Afternoon Tea and Presentation in the Collegiate Dining Hall (off Grey St) Note the Intermediate Schools presented Lakeside at 3.15pm