Late Friday afternoons at the Grand will be less interesting and less controversial without Kevin Ross who died last Thursday.

On arrival in Whanganui back in 1973, I heard a lot about Kevin Ross and his successful career as a middle-distance runner coached outstandingly by the late Toby Bowyer.

This career included a six-year unbeaten run over 800, 1500m and mile, New Zealand Junior and senior titles, a New Zealand Junior 880-yard record, New Zealand representation at the Australian Championships in 1968 and at the Pacific Conference Games in Tokyo (1969).

Ross along with Tony Polhill, Richard Taylor and Dick Quax set the world 4 x 1 mile record of 16:04.8 at Mount Smart Stadium in February 1972. Ross won the mile at the opening of the Porritt Stadium on 12 December 1970 (4:00.9) and won a notable victory in an International 800 metres in February 1972 winning from John Walker, Tony Polhill and Jere van Dyk.

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It was in 1977 that I first really met Ross when we shared management of the West Coast North Island team to the what was the third edition of the New Zealand Colts Championships in Hawera, the second last championships to be held on a grass track.

We roomed together in a small motel and during the weekend I learned much about his passion and knowledge of the sport which told so much more than reading about his impressive racing statistics.

I found he was not afraid to speak his mind about his beliefs when in no uncertain terms he told the then NZAA hierarchy where they were failing the sport.

In the years we met frequently usually as coaches of rival athletes. Ross began to carve out an impressive coaching record. This continued in Wellington over many years which became his base as a successful coach of distance runners from 800 metres to marathon including marathon, cross- country and mountain running.

Ross on his return to Whanganui along with Russell Sears set up the Whanganui Sports Heritage Trust where he brought his IT skills, athletic knowledge, and passion for the sport to excellent use.

It also brought a group together weekly socially where discussion was lively, controversial but always interesting. Kevin will be missed by many. A full obituary has appeared on the Athletics New Zealand website.

The Manawatu Whanganui Cross Country Championships hosted by the Wanganui Harrier Club will be held at Bason Botanic Gardens on Rapanui Road, Westmere on Saturday with races starting at 12-30 pm with the grades from under 9 upwards.

The venue is outstanding and will provide excellent racing and preparation for the major events that lie ahead including the New Zealand Championships in Dunedin on the 29th of August and New Zealand Schools a month later in Hawera on Saturday 19th September.

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There is strong local interest in junior grades. New Zealand Schools representative George Lambert and Ben Conder finished first and second respectively at the Whanganui Collegiate Championships at the end of June but run in different grades on Saturday.

Conder will compete in the under 20 grade and Lambert in the under 18 grade. They start together but the younger grade run 6 kilometres (3 laps of the 2km circuit and the older 8km.

Conder could face strong opposition from Luke Scott who became the fastest Parkrunner in New Zealand clocking 14:53 in Palmerston North in March.

The well-performed Andre Le Pine Day (Palmerston North ) and William Leong are also in the mix. George Lambert, who has only had the one race over 3 kilometres, could face stiff opposition from out of town athletes Nelson Doolan and Samuel Stitchbury (fresh off a 5km Parkrun of 16:24 )with Cameron Walker recently 3rd in the Hawke's Bay Secondary Schools a likely starter.

Mackenzie Morgan who finished 10th as a Junior at New Zealand Schools last year and who set the fastest time at the Collegiate Championships will be travelling from her Miramar Wellington home to compete on Saturday in the under 18 grade where, in a preview to Whanganui Schools scheduled for the 17th August on the Whanganui Collegiate Golf Course, she will face strong opposition from Nga Tawa athlete Emma Fergusson running for Moa and Collegiate teammate Josephine Perkins, who is still only 15.

The senior women's race over 8km will start at 1pm with both the women under 18 and under 20 and master's grades.

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Former NZ Schools International Tessa Webb who has been unable to return from her American North Carolina High Point University will be a strong favourite.

The men's grades start together at 2 -10 pm and with Christian Conder back to the USA to complete his final year of study, leaves the race open for Josh Paine, Luke Watts, Chris Lines and Jason Daws to fight it out.