Rising middle distance runner Liam Back departs for Paris and the World Schools Cross Country at the weekend.
His final workout on the Collegiate Golf Course when he completed a 5km over the undulating course was an outstanding 15 minutes 2 seconds and confirmation that he leaves the country to run overseas for the first time in the best of form.
The time trial follows a superb fortnight that saw him win three New Zealand under 18 titles and a further four at Whanganui Schools a few days later. Back has a farewell breakfast today (Thursday) at the Grand Hotel where he will be joined by 50 fellow Collegiate students, parents and sponsors and gives him a chance to thank his supporters.
Back and six fellow athletes also were inspired by David Moorcroft's address at Cooks Gardens on Tuesday to an invited audience. Moorcroft who is a former World Record holder over 5000 metres, a former Commonwealth Games gold medal winner and twice winner of mile races at Cooks Gardens.
We were able to watch the second of those wins in 1980 with a video of the race along with a video of the world record. Moorcroft captivated the audience affirming the importance of New Zealand in the development of middle distance running especially the mile in inspiring him and that outstanding British runners headed by Sebastian Coe in the 1970s and early 80s. He reaffirmed the place of Cooks Gardens in the New Zealand mile story. He also talked of the love of running and the basic simplicity of the sport.
Moorcroft took the time to speak to the younger athletes as they had a meal after the talk which was a real bonus for them especially for Back as he prepares for his challenge in Paris.
Last week I featured the multiple winners at the Whanganui Schools who stood clearly stood out at the championships.
There were, however, many other meritorious single winners and other placegetters who also excelled and are worthy of mention, some of whom produced national class performances.
Among these were Tomasi Connor (Cullinane) in Javelin where he threw the 700 gram javelin 49.16 metres. This would place the under 16 athlete fourth in the New Zealand under 18 rankings.
With some work with throwing coach Richard Drabczynski he could become a serious medal contender at the North Island Championships at Cooks Gardens over the first weekend in April.
Jonathan Maples (High School), who has lived in the shadow of his sisters Lexi and Genna, won his first Whanganui title in the Triple Jump with a jump of 12.12m. He finished second in the 300 metre hurdles, second in the 100 metres and third in the 200 metres. This is overdue reward for his hard work.
Although a little disappointed with some of his performances he should be encouraged as he is making good progress following injury and will improve further by North Islands and could go further still at the end of the year at New Zealand Schools in Dunedin.
Another athlete on the comeback after injury is Grace Godfrey (Collegiate) who has missed almost all of the season. She won the senior girls in a modest time but training since then has demonstrated that she could make a rapid advance by the North Island Championship, while Jessica Pfefferle (Nga Tawa) continues to perform well in Discus also winning the Manawatu Schools Discus three days later with a longer throw than at Cooks Gardens.
The closest finish of the day came in the 400 metres Intermediate Boys when Zach Bellamy (Collegiate) won by .01 of a second from Jakob Moorhouse (High School). Tayla Brunger (Collegiate) lost to team mate Emma Osborne by .03 second over their 400 metres with both recording national class times. Both are nationally ranked with Brunger first and Osborne fourth.
Brunger also missed out in the 200 metres to Genna Maples (top ranked at under 18 over 200 metres but can take some consolation that her time consolidates her third place in the 200 metre rankings.
With a home North Island Championships (April 7-8) Whanganui will field a larger team than usual with the team being named on Friday.