There is something of the new and the traditional about the Silks Audit Alan Webby 400-metre handicap race at the Cooks Classic in Whanganui on Tuesday evening.

The event is in memory of Alan Webby who was both a Whanganui Athletics Club stalwart and Whanganui sporting identity having played rugby and competed for the city and district in both athletics and rugby.

"Webby was a former Athletics Wanganui president and for many years I enjoyed his company on trips with the club as part of a group of cheerful and fun- loving officials who added so much and were enjoyed by all including the athletes on the bus," current club president Alec McNab said.

"Webby competed and officiated at so many of the big nights at Cooks Gardens. An early competition at Cooks Gardens in 1947 when he ran against the great New Zealand half miler Doug Harris in a handicap mile, he apparently said that when Harris flew past him, he stepped off the track to watch the rest of the race.

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"Webby was at all the big nights at Cooks officiating in the heady days of the South Pacific TV series in the 70s that brought a whole group of international athletes to Cooks Gardens and New Zealand," McNab said.

"Webby would have run at many handicap meetings as I did in my days in Scotland around the Highland Games circuit and here, when I came to New Zealand in the early 1970s, I even ran against Webby's son Colin in a handicap 800m race at Cooks Gardens."

The handicap races were designed to give all competitors an even chance of sharing the prizes (engravable goods in the amateur days). For that reason, they were popular but began to go out of favour possibly as athletes did not get a time on the track for the complete distance as they ran off a handicap mark on the track.

"I was always frustrated by this aspect and I remember winning a mile race at the Cowal Highland Games but as I was off 90 yards, I never knew what my time was for the whole mile." McNab lamented.

"Four years ago, we reintroduced a handicap element to the Cooks Classic over 400m on the track and javelin in the field. The introduction of these events has proven popular.
The difference from the past was that all runners ran over 400m ensuring all athletes ran the whole race with handicap times deducted.

"Athletes ran in seeded heats by ability (three heats last year and on Tuesday). The other innovation being that females of higher ability could be running in a mixed heat. There is a prize of $300 with one winner from all the competitors from both genders entered."

The handicaps are based on recent performances which means that an athlete will probably have to run a personal best to win and at the same time better the bests of rivals in the field. Last year New Zealand senior 400m silver medal winner Josh Ledger ran a personal best, but had to settle for second in the handicap event.

The nature of the event attracts runners who normally run other distances, both 100/200 metre sprinters and middle distance runners. This year local New Zealand Schools 800m New Zealand Schools medal winners Ana Brabyn (junior 800m gold medal winner) and Joseph Sinclair (senior boys 800m silver medal winner) entered. Both are not complete strangers to the one lap event but with only a few performances over the shorter distance a modest personal best could secure the prize.

Unfortunately, Sinclair has had to withdraw following an appendix operation at the weekend but Brabyn, along with 400m New Zealand Schools medal winner Tayla Brunger, carries local hopes while Josh Ledger returns hopeful to gain more than line honours.

"Alan Webby would approve and as an athlete who won titles in events from 100 yards to the mile would have loved an event that all have a chance of winning but at the same time athletes now get the feedback of receiving an electronic confirmation of their performance," McNab.

The Silk Audit Alan Webby 400m handicap is at 8.25pm with the other handicap event the Javelin, which features former Whanganui Heptathlete Lexi Maples, is part of the short pre-meet programme at 6pm.