It is hard as either supporter or coach standing on the side line as only the athlete or player can change the result.

At the weekend I stood on the terraces of Somerset Park in Ayr (Scotland) with my ardent Partick Thistle supporter brother watching Thistle go down 2 -0 to Ayr United. Cynics would say Thistle were lucky to get nil.

It is even harder to support when the athletes I was thinking about were on the other side of the world competing at the New Zealand Cross Country Championships on the wet and demanding course at Grenada, Tawa.

At least in the modern age thanks to text and internet my wait was not long and by a combination of both I had received results and reactions well before dawn in Scotland.


The results were certainly worth waiting for.
Liam Back continued to build his impressive competition CV. Last year he made his first mark nationally by winning the New Zealand Schools under 16 as a relatively unknown athlete.

At the end of the year he won the New Zealand Schools under 16 1500m on the track. In 2018 he has built on these early indicators of success.

In March he took an impressive middle distance under 18 treble winning the 1500m, 3000m and 2000m Steeplechase in Hamilton on the eve of his departure for his first international experience in Paris.

At the World Schools event he finished a highly creditable 16th and was the youngest top 20 finisher.

In June he was second in the New Zealand Schools Cross Country behind the older defending champion Sam Tanner. This won him selection for the NZ Schools team to travel to Australia later this month.

Back therefore came to Grenada as under 18 race favourite for the first time in national competition. Back adapted to the wet conditions and stuck to his prepared race plan and was unfazed by the slow tactical nature of the race.

He made his bid at the most demanding section of the course and opened the gap that he held to the finish. Championship successes are more important than records and Back is developing an impressive competition.

Rebecca Baker, coached by Greg Fromont, is also developing an impressive record.
Her second place in the under 18 women's race at the weekend was her first major podium finish in cross country.

Baker is the complete all-rounder, an outstanding representative hockey player and on the track won the New Zealand Schools 1500m in the under 16s in December and on her home Cooks Gardens track won the Intermediate 1500m, 3000m double at April's North Island Schools. She, like Back, travels to Australia at the end of the month.

Australian-bound team mate Sarah Lambert also made the podium for the first time finishing one place behind Baker to take third in the under 16 event.

Lambert has made huge progress as a runner and this hard-working Year 12 athlete will add further valuable experience on the Sunshine Coast at the Australian Championships.

It is exciting to have two national class athletes in the same city and with Marseille Bowie and Caitlyn Alabaster in the wings next year's Whanganui Championship will be especially interesting.

William Sinclair, who ran in the under 20 race, was tantalisingly close to a medal. His fast finishing sprint brought him only two seconds shy of a medal. Sinclair, who has produced some excellent track performances during the summer season, will not only benefit from the endurance base that cross country helps provide, but has demonstrated a growing confidence in a major competition.

The old saying about "horses for courses" ran true at Grenada.

The relaxed track running style of Zach Bellamy did not suit the muddy conditions. His training performances suggested he was in better form than when a Year 11 athlete he finished 7th in the senior event at New Zealand Schools.

He laboured in the conditions but nevertheless finished 16th which brought consolation in the form of a team silver medal along with Back and the Palmerston North based runners Andre Le Pine Day and Noah McDermid. Marseille Bowie also gained a team bronze medal finishing 17th and sharing the team medal with Whanganui athletes Baker and Lambert and Stephanie Walker from Feilding.

All four Whanganui team medal winners will be running for New Zealand where again I will be waiting anxiously for news from the Antipodes.

I will however be back in time to watch many more athletes in action at the annual Round the Lake Relay on Monday, September 10.