Whanganui athletes had a wonderful national championships in cold and damp conditions at the new Nga Puna Wai track in Christchurch at the weekend.
Sixteen of the 19 athletes attending from Whanganui returned with either an individual or a relay medal. Six of these medals were individual golds but for injury and sickness this impressive total may have been even better.
The athletes, except for Jonathan Maples (school lever last December) and the injured Emma Osborne, are scheduled to be back in action at Cooks Gardens at the Whanganui Secondary Schools today. This is not only demanding physically but after the excitement of a New Zealand Championship it is a big ask for young athletes.
Liam Back demonstrated that he has returned from injury. He defended his under-18 title impressively running away from the field over the final lap to record a winning time of 3:59.36 which puts him as favourite for the Sir John Walker Junior Mile (under-20) in Auckland later this month.
He should have been joined by teammate Andres Hernandez in the final but unfortunately Hernandez had to pull out through illness which makes him a doubtful for today's inter-schools.
Hernandez has earlier in the meet taken a silver medal in the 3000m when he was outsprinted in the home straight after leading throughout. The previous day Back won his maiden 800m title. After a slow first lap of 66s Back stormed home, completing the last lap in 54s.
Whanganui sprinters had an impressive meet.
Sophie Williams was hugely impressive over 100m, stopping the clock in 11.86s (the second fastest women in all grades.) The time places the 14-year-old fifth in the open women's rankings this year. Her training partner and defending under-18 champion Genna Maples finished second with a personal best of 12.19s.
Five minutes later Maples took gold in long jump with a massive 29cm personal best, jumping 5.93m (the best female jump of the meet ) and goes to fourth in the open women's rankings. Later Maples set a personal best of 25.01s to take silver in the 200m with teammate Tayla Brunger in fourth, also with a pb.
Emma Osborne added the 400m title to the NZ Schools title won in December. It was in one of the tightest finishes of the meet where only 0.3s separated the top four. Teammate Brunger was fourth. She also finished fourth in a tight 200m after running a personal best. Osborne pulled up injured at the end of her 400m and limped through the back straight in the 4x100m under-18 relay leg as it was too late to replace her.
The team of Brunger, Osborne, Williams and Maples did well to come second under the circumstances. Brunger became unwell on the Sunday and with Osborne had to be replaced in the 4x400m relay.
The three remaining runners from the squad of five joined Sophie Redmayne, who had won a bronze in her first national 400m championship hurdles in the under-20 grade, to win a gutsy silver in the older grade.
Lucas Martin made another positive step in his burgeoning race career. He took gold in the under-20 3000m walk taking 48s off his personal best and Collegiate record. He took bronze in his demanding first 10,000m walk on Sunday by demonstrating perseverance and sound technique while Ashleigh Alabaster took silver and George Lambert bronze in their respective steeplechase events.
Relays proved successful for the Manawatu/Whanganui team and gave athletes a tangible reward for their efforts.
Travis Bayler had reached his first national 800m final, Connor Munro had been fourth in the 400m hurdle final, Jonathan Maples ran a personal best 200m time (just missing the final) and Joseph Sinclair had finished fourth in the under-20 800m final and had been impeded in his run to the line.
They combined to win a hard-earned bronze in the 4x400m. Bayler, Munro and Maples joined with 400m senior men finalist Braydon Grant (Manawatu) went one better with a superb silver in the senior men's 4x100m.
From a team of non-specialist 100m runners their effort was remarkable and typified the spirit of the MWA team. Many will call on that same spirit today as they pick themselves up to compete again at the Whanganui Schools Championships.