Liam Back ran the almost perfect race to take the Senior Boy's title at New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country in Timaru at the weekend.
Back followed in the footsteps of fellow Whanganui Collegiate Senior Boy's Champions Hugo Beamish (Tauranga 2008) and his brother Geordie (Palmerston North 2014).
Martin Holmes (Whanganui High School) won in Rangiora in 1984 and in Levin a year later. Duncan Ross (Wanganui Boys College) at Cambridge in 1993 was the other winner which means in the 46-year history of the event Whanganui athletes have taken nearly 15 per cent of the senior titles, a remarkable record from a smaller provincial city.
Back, following his excellent run a week earlier in the men's race over 8km at Dorne Cup, had confidence he could sit with early pace and rely on his speed over the final stages of the race (he won the New Zealand under-18 800 metre and 1500 metre track titles in the summer).
Back was confident that as long as he was still in contention at the death he was in with a good chance of topping the podium.
Murdoch McIntyre (Westlake Boys High School) set the early pace with first year senor Will Anthony (Scots College) alongside. Anthony took over the lead during the second lap with Back sitting closely behind. Back struck on the final hill and held the lead down the hill and over the small jump into the home straight to win by five seconds with McIntyre third.
Back's team mate Andres Hernandez was always close to the action but lost the sprint finish with Jude Darby and David Moore of Westlake to finish 7th. First year senior George Lambert finished 13th in the 200 strong field to ensure the Collegiate team finished second in the 3 to score team event, losing out to the pre-race favourites Westlake Boys' High School.
Collegiate's total of 21 points was the best for a second placed team in the history of the event. Collegiate also took silver in the 6 to score behind Westlake (Zach Bellamy, William and Joseph Sinclair were the other scorers).
Sarah Lambert (Collegiate) ran solidly to finish fourth in the Senior Girls. Lambert was 5th last year and did well in what was a stronger field staying close to the action throughout.
Lambert joined Back and Hernandez in the 13-strong paper team selected. They, along with Rebecca Baker (Whanganui High School) who ran well to finish eighth over the demanding Timaru course, have also been selected to compete for the New Zealand team that will be travelling to New South Wales to attend the Australian Championships in late August. The paper team selection gives access for funding for the tour in August.
Ana Brabyn lived up to her promise by finishing third in the Junior Girls using her track speed to snatch bronze on the line. Her performance headed gold medal team performances by the Collegiate 3 and 6 to score teams. Brabyn's 13-year-old sister Louise, who had moved up from the Year 9 grade to be part of a team, finished 16th with Josephine Perkins in 18th. They were joined by Marguerite Hazelhurst (30th), Lucy Brown (35th) and rookie Lucy Monckton (45th) to convincingly win the 6 to score title. Emma Fergusson (Nga Tawa) ran well to take 20th in the race.
The Collegiate Senior Girls finished 5th in the 3 to score and were just two points shy of a medal in the 6 to score (213 to 215) with St Cuthbert's taking the medal and St Peters School Cambridge taking fifth on a countback.
Triathlete Hunter Gibson was the first Whanganui runner home in the Junior Boys in 25th with Nat Kirk (High School) just one place behind. Whanganui Collegiate took 4th in the 6 to score team event.
On Sunday Whanganui teams performed well in the Regional Relays against larger regions.
The Junior Girls combination of Ana and Louise Brabyn, Josephine Perkins, Marguerite Hazelhurst (Collegiate) and Emma Ferguson ran well to take bronze behind Wellington and East Coast North Island but ahead of larger regions such as Canterbury, Taranaki, Otago, Auckland and Waikato in a race contested by 11 five-person teams running 2km each (two laps of the 1km loop).
The Senior Boys also took third with a strong team of Liam Back, Zach Bellamy (Collegiate) Karl Loebe (High School) Andres Hernandez (Collegiate) and Travis Bayler (High School) needed all his track speed to secure bronze on the line with Whanganui and Waikato given the same time.
In the other relays Whanganui finished eighth in the Year 9 boy's race. The Junior Boys finished in a similar position and seventh in the Senior Girls in a race contested by 18 combinations.
I will reflect further on a successful Cross Country Championships in Timaru next week.