COMMENT

Cooks Gardens has a proud history as an athletics venue.

It is very much part of Whanganui's Heritage and it is fitting that the annual Cooks Classic on Saturday evening falls into Vintage Weekend.

The Cooks Classic and the Billy Webb Challenge on the river on Sunday provide a sporting component to a vibrant weekend. I have long said when helping with the organisation of major track and field events that if I personally am not excited about the athletic action to follow, then it is time to stop my involvement. That time has not yet come and I can't wait for Saturday's action.

On Tuesday as we prepared the new base to the high jump landing area, for which we are very grateful to Ray Eru and the team at Ali Arc. The sense of anticipation grew that only a few days later stadium records and even a national record could be set on that landing area on Saturday.

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Hamish Kerr will first set about beating his own stadium record of 2.22 metres and would love to become the sole New Zealand record holder. He currently shares the record of 2.30 metres with Glen Howard.

In the women's event there is a large and competitive field of athletes all of whom are attending the Jumps Camp and Conference at Whanganui Collegiate over the weekend and through to Wednesday.

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The women's stadium record is 1.85m set in 2015 by Australian Nicola McDonnell but could be under threat from Josephine Reeves who has a best of 1.86 metres. Reeves will have both the senior and under 20 stadium record of 1.81m within her sights.

Also, in the field is Kelly O'Hagan who also has a best of 1.85 metres, Josie Taylor who has cleared 1.83m and Emma Sutherland whose best is 1.80 metres. Expert commentary of the event will be provided by jumps camp organiser and coach Terry Lomax who still sits at 5th equal in the all-time rankings.

As an iconic track and field venue it is not surprising that there are some impressive stadium records.

As mentioned in yesterday's Whanganui Chronicle the stadium under 20 100 metre record could be under threat from Edward Osei-Nketia who would also love to break his father's senior men's record of 10.49 set back in 2000. New Zealand International Joseph Millar who heads the current 100m 2020 rankings will make sure Nketia will not have it all his own way.

The junior men's 3000m stadium record (8:32.6) was set by Terry Stone of Palmerston North back in 1980 could be under threat from the 18-strong field contesting the New Zealand Championship.

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Liam Back, who is on a build up for major races in March, could along with Benjamin Wall (Manawatu) Will Anthony (Wellington) and Back's teammate Andres Hernandez get close to the 40-year-old record.

There may not be the Classic Mile at this year's meet as the New Zealand Mile Championship will be the feature event at the Sir Peter Snell Meeting at Cooks Gardens on Saturday, March 14. However, the iconic four-lap event comes in a relay format at 9pm, so often the time for the event at Cooks Gardens.

In 1919 a New Zealand Army team at the end of the First World War set a world record at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea Football Club, of 3 minutes 30.6 seconds.

The relay consists of a leg of 880 yards a leg of 440 yards and two legs of 220 yards. The Challenge for the senior teams is to better that performance and for the younger school teams from Whanganui High School and Whanganui Collegiate to dip under four minutes for the mile.

In a weekend where heritage is the theme this is a fitting way to end the Cooks Gardens Classic.

There is also a focus on youth with the return of the popular Bayleys-sponsored "Fastest Kid on the Block" at 7.55 pm. The series of six age-group races over 20 minutes brings together heat winners from their Whanganui and region districts who will wear their team colours with pride. Amongst the competitors are athletes who performed so well at the recent Colgate Games in Inglewood. I will feature the "Fastest Kid on the Block" tomorrow.

The Cooks Gardens Classic commences at 7pm on Saturday with the first track event, the men's 100 metres at 7.25 pm, by which time the opening high jump will be reaching its conclusion. Entry to Cooks Gardens is by donation and it is hoped that spectators will generously support this initiative of bringing top class Track and Field back to Cooks Gardens providing another attraction to a vibrant weekend.