Northland athletics stalwart Ian Babe is stepping down as the Athletics New Zealand president after ongoing health problems.
The 82-year-old coaching legend officially finished in his role as president on Saturday at Athletics NZ's AGM in Wellington. Babe was unable to travel to the meeting due to his health and his resignation from the role was announced by letter.
Babe, who is well-known for coaching former Olympic medallist, Commonwealth Games star and ITU World champion Sam Warriner, is now mentoring 14-year-old Northlander Bella Earl, who competed in and won the New Zealand under-16 cross-country in Wellington over the weekend without her coach there to support her.
"I was looking forward to going down for the AGM and wind up as president, and I also missed being down there with Bella which was a little disappointing for me," Babe said.
"When I was appointed, I was told it could be two years, I was thinking I could do two years but you need to travel and I've had too many problems with my health."
While he was disappointed not to have continued in the role for the full two years, Babe appreciated the opportunity to be involved with athletics at the highest level.
"It's been a huge honour to be in the position I've been in, Athletics NZ has kept out of problems that other associations have had and the reason for that is the quality of the people."
In his finals weeks as president, Babe had been working with the organisation on an initiative to improve the standard of coaching across athletics from the volunteer level up to high performance coaches.
"It gives you an opportunity to actually contribute and because of my coaching experience, I was really pleased with initiative," he said.
"Coaching is absolutely crucial and it's really important to keep working on the quality of that coaching. Young athletes have a right to have top coaching and Athletics NZ is trying to continue to upgrade the quality of what we are offering."
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Babe's skill as a coach has been evident in young Earl's success this winter.
Along with her recent national under-16 title, Earl was crowned New Zealand's fastest Year 9 over 3km at the national secondary school cross-country championships in June.
The then 13-year-old also won the junior girls 1500m at the North Island secondary schools athletics earlier this year and was mere seconds from a Northland record.
Earl won her race on the weekend by more than 25 seconds, or about 150 metres, in 14.35 minutes.
Babe said Earl's three big winter races had proven her potential as a middle-distance runner.
"I was very confident, her training had gone really well, she's in good shape and I just knew she was gong to be really hard to beat and I expected her to go out there to do the business.
"I've had some really good athletes and when you're a coach you tend to think of your good athletes and you're thinking, 'wow this young lady is doing well for age and if she can continue to get appropriate coaching through the next few years, she could do well'."
Babe was the latest of the 105 presidents of Athletics NZ. The first president was Charles Carteret Corfe, a national cricketer and school headmaster who held the role from 1888 to 1889.
Athletics NZ chief executive Peter Pfitzinger said it was a shame to see Babe go but he was confident in the ability of new president, Joan Merrilees, who was vice-president under Babe.