Evergreen Nick Willis will return to Cooks Gardens, the ground on which he has set a record five sub 4- minute miles and the track mile record of 3:52.75.
This epic run in 2006 was only a few weeks before he won the Commonwealth Gold medal in Melbourne.
Willis, however, will not be adding to his Cooks Gardens sub 4-minute miles as the feature event of next Tuesday's Cooks Classic will be the 1500 metres (the metric equivillent) to be run at 9pm bringing the curtain down on two hours of athletic action.
Willis, who turns 36 in April, has the Stadium Record of 3:38.03 in his sights and hopes to pocket the $1000 incentive bonus for achieving the record. This is clearly a realistic target for the three time Olympic and double Olympic medal winner. In the Northern summer he ran 3:35.25 for 1500 metres and a mile in 3:56.77 both in September.
Willis is one of our true greats in the sport with three Commonwealth 1500 metre medals, he has run at four consecutive Olympic Games and was a finalist in the last three snaring silver in 2008 and bronze in 2016 when he became the oldest Olympic 1500 metre medal winner.
The special atmosphere of Cooks Gardens and the support of the knowledgeable and vociferous Whanganui crowd could see him add to his impressive Cooks Gardens credentials.
Willis will be joined by fellow New Zealand International Julian Oakley who has a personal best of 3:39.42 (just outside of the Cooks record) set in May in the northern summer. The fact that both have requested a 1500 metre race and a pacemaker in the shape of the well-performed Theunis Pieters highlights their serious intent.
The 1500 metres has received the largest number of entries of any event at the Classic (20 athletes) further highlighting the reputation of the track. There will be interest in the performance of New Zealand Youth representative and World Schools School's Cross Country medal winner Sam Tanner from Tauranga.
Sam has a personal best of 3:46.69 and the fact that he has bypassed the under-20 3000 metres at the same meeting indicates he has targeted a fast time. Simon Rogers, son of Olympic 1984 1500 metre finalist Tony Rogers, who is on our sub 4-minute roll of honour, is among the starters and has the credentials to perform well.
Tuesday's Cooks Classic also hosts the under-20 3000 metre championships. There is a small but quality field in the women's race headed by triple New Zealand Schools middle distance medal winner Hannah O'Connor.
O'Connor is no stranger to Cooks Gardens and is a clear favourite to add another New Zealand title to her impressive list. In the field there are three other New Zealand School representatives, Kirstie Rae Isabella Richardson and our own Sarah Lambert.
There is a larger field in the male championship although as mentioned above Sam Tanner will not be competing, nor our own injured Liam Back. William Sinclair is on the start list but has also been under an injury cloud which might leave Andres Hernandez, featured a fortnight ago, to carry local hopes.
Also, in the field is local 15-year-old George Lambert who took a bronze medal in the New Zealand Schools junior Road Race.
Few provincial towns in the world of Whanganui's size can boast a more impressive set of ground track and field records than Cooks Gardens.
The 1500 metres is not the only Stadium Record under threat on Tuesday.
The meeting starts at 7pm and the opening High Jump has every chance of starting the meet with a Stadium record. Hamish Kerr with his 2.25 metre leap in Christchurch in November moved straight to number 2 in the NZ All time rankings.
Kerr shares the Stadium Record of 2.17 metres with Chris Dodd of Australia. Kerr equalled Dodd's record last February at the MWA Championships. Kerr now training in Christchurch with former New Zealand High Jump Champion Terry Lomax. Lomax is currently an Athletics New Zealand lead coach for Combined events jumps, sprints and relays.
Lomax also spent several years with British Athletics which included a stint as lead in High Jump. Lomax and will give some expert commentary on the High Jump which is the opening event at 7pm.
In a subsequent article I will review the rest of the Cooks Classic including the highly popular "Fastest kid on the Block" which gives our youngest athletes a chance to shine at the iconic Cooks Gardens.