The maiden appearance of Olympic silver medallist Nick Willis has added some zest to the premier athletics meeting in Hawke's Bay this Saturday.
The 17th edition of the annual Allan and Sylvia Potts Memorial Classic has enticed a record 181 athletes compared with 136 last year, thanks to Michigan-based Willis, to the event to be staged at the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park in Hastings.
"The athletes in the men's 800m are the best we have had because of Nick's presence," says classic organiser Richard Potts, revealing Willis is the favourite with a time of 1:45.54 in the marquee race.
Potts says last year's Kiwi winner, Brad Mathus (1:47.39), is less than two seconds behind that and so is Willis' training partner, Australian Craig Huffer (1:47.73) who also lives in Michigan.
Throw in former classic champion Hamish Carson (1:49.2), a maybe coming unknown quantity in Emmanuel Biwott (1:48), of Kenya, and you start appreciating the pulling power of Willis.
It will be the first time the 32-year-old Hutt Valley-born athlete will return to the Bay venue for the classic since officially opening it in 2008.
Pott says Lachlan Barber (1:48.06), a junior Australian, has withdrawn after picking up an injury last Friday and is out of action for six weeks.
Josh Ledger, of Wellington, will be the pace maker to ensure the elite field sets a cracking pace.
However, nine Australians will compete here in what is "the most we have ever had".
"The Aussie contingent includes exceptional youth talent, James Joycey. He is only 16 but world class for his age and throws in three disciplines -- the hammer, discus and shotput," says Potts, adding his presence will add spice to former world age-group shotput record holder Jacko Gill, a New Zealander, heaving here.
The Xavier College pupil from Melbourne is a multiple Victoria representative who has won six national medals, including four silvers and two bronzes.
However, Joycey's preferred discipline is hammer throw, where his PB with a 5kg hammer is 64.52, He hurls a discus (1.5kg) 48.72m and a 5kg shot 15.33m.
Potts says the meeting will have $7000 worth of prizes, including bonus time and distance ones as well as ones on the classic facebook page.
The two other major meetings of Athletics New Zealand circuit, the Cooks Classic (Whanganui) and the Capital Classic (Wellington) have come to the party to ensure all three meetings will benefit from their collaboration.
Potts says Wanganui coach and stalwart Alec McNab, who has coached Havelock North runner Geordie Beamish, has organised a bus tour of Youth Olympians to travel to all three venues.
The Cooks Classic is on Tuesday, January 19, while the Capital one is on Friday, January22.
"Alec's organising the travel of the Australians as well to each of the meetings so there'll be about 40 on those trips' he says, adding athletes from as far down south as Invercargill will arrive here in carloads.
In the marquee female, Angie Petty, of Canterbury, will court all the buzz dedicated to Potts' mother Sylvia, in 800m senior race.
Petty, nee Smit, is the reigning 800m World University champion and a sub 2-minute 800m runner ranked 21 among seniors worldwide. She has won six 800m classic titles here.
"Angie wants to go through in 59 seconds [in the first round] so her sub two-minute time is world class first up for the season," he says, disclosing Dionne Treadaway, of Tokoroa, will be saddled with the responsibility of whipping up a cracking pace.
Treadaway, a 200m and 400m specialist, is hoping to make the junior world 4 x 100m New Zealand team.
The national 3km under-20 championship has lured a field of 19 males and 16 females to provide overall oomph to the Potts classic.
The event is named after Allan and Sylvia Potts. Sylvia Potts was a New Zealand Champion 800m runner who competed at Olympic and Commonwealth Games, narrowly missing the Commonwealth gold medal in 1970 when she fell just short of the finish line.
Husband Allan was a New Zealand track coach and also mentored Sylvia. Their son, Richard, also is a former Commonwealth games representative and coach. He lost his battle with cancer in May 2014.
The event used to be titled the Sylvia Potts Memorial Classic until Allan's death saw their names combined since last year's meeting.
Potts says all the gold-coin donations, plus "another sizeable" contribution through sponsorship, will be handed over to Cancer Society Hawke's Bay.
Last year $1500 was donated to the society.
"Where else do you get to see international athletes for a gold coin?" he asks, adding all the people organising the classic are volunteers.