If the trio of events last week, the Cooks Classic in Whanganui, Jumps to Music in Hawera and the Potts Classic in Hastings were the entree to the second half of the season, it is clear the main course is going to be something special.
Cooks Gardens further strengthened its reputation for top middle distance running with all the top eight athletes setting personal bests in an outstanding under 20 New Zealand Championship won by Liam Lamb (Wellington) who sliced an amazing 26 seconds off his best (8:24.79). Whanganui athletes Liam Back finished with bronze (8:32.26), Andres Hernandez in fourth (8:33.89), George Lambert 10th (9:02.78) and Ben Conder 16th (9:26.20) - all personal bests.
Holding an athletics New Zealand Jumps Camp at Whanganui Collegiate over the weekend guaranteed an outstanding high jumps in Whanganui with co New Zealand record holder Hamish Kerr taking the win in the men's and Josephine Reeves taking the women's from Keeley O'Hagan on a countback (1.77m).
They were both in action last Wednesday at the annual "Jumps to Music" in Hawera. The Hawera event features just jumps with each athlete selecting their 1980s music played as their name was called and during their trial. The colourful presentation and the enthusiasm of participants and the closeness of the appreciative audience makes this a special event on the calendar.
Kerr was the men's winner with Reeves repeating her 1.77 leap to win the women's. Whanganui athlete Harvey Meyer, who in December took silver at New Zealand Schools in the junior grade with a 1.83 jump, responded well to the atmosphere jumping 1.82 metres and narrowly missed 1.87 only two centimetres above the Collegiate junior record.
Meyer is a jumper who revels in the atmosphere of big competition and with four months until his 16th birthday the record must be on borrowed time.
The Potts Classic at the weekend provided many top performances. The throwers who had no events in Whanganui or Hawera held centre stage. Julia Ratcliffe opened proceedings with her best Hammer throw in New Zealand throwing the 4kg implement to 69.94 metres with Lauren Bruce throwing a personal best 67.87 to take second.
An hour or so later 18- year old New Zealand Schools Discus Champion Connor Bell who threw the senior 2kg discus to 63.25 metres to go to third on the New Zealand all -time list. Watch this space.
There was a large crowd on the fence behind the shot circle to watch the two Shot Put competitions. It was the women first and there was considerable interest on how Dame Valerie Adams would perform following her long maternity break.
Adams delivered with an 18.65 effort that qualified her for both the World Indoors in March and the Tokyo Olympics later in the year. My highlight of the Meet was Valerie running towards the supporters, arms aloft "I am going to the Olympics" It could have been the reaction of an Olympic first timer but for Adams it will be her fifth and a true example of her ongoing desire and commitment — a great role model for all young athletes.
In the men's event Tom Walsh opened his season with a world class 21.10 metre put. Walsh had two huge efforts just out to the left of the sector line with his opening trials. He has two or three more competitions before he defends his World Indoor title in March.
The warm conditions and tail wind on the home straight provided excellent sprint conditions. Zoe Hobbs came within .001 of her personal best winning in 11.38 seconds Whanganui athlete Tayla Brunger set a huge personal best in the heats going under 12 seconds for the first time to record 11.89 seconds, unfortunately the wind was 2.5 m/s just .0.5 above the legal limit. Aria Carroll who has come from Christchurch only narrowly missed the final recording a pleasing 12.44 performance.
Later in the meeting Brunger finished second in the 400 metres with another sub 56 second performance (55.81). The fresh back straight headwind was not conducive to top one lap performance.
Brunger joined the winner Annalies Kalma and Holly Rule (third) and Charlotte Holland in a 4 x 400 relay combination the following day with a pleasing 3:48.44 performance in their quest to qualify as team for the World Junior Championships in Kenya in July.
Liam Back was 5th in the elite 800 metres with an encouraging 1:54.75 effort. Back came home fast but left himself too much to do over the final 200 metres.
Zach Bellamy finished second in the B 800 metres with an encouraging 1:57.90 just outside his personal best and this was backed up by a smooth win over 1000m at a quiet Club Night on Tuesday.
We move to the business end of the season.