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.

And those records may well be added to at the annual Cooks Classic on Tuesday evening.

The impressive existing list features athletes from six countries, including Olympic champions and medal winners. The all-time list is even more impressive highlighting the importance of the famous ground for the sport.

This depth of performance is most clearly evident over the classic mile, which along with its metric equivalent the 1500 metres, has a special part in athletic history and in New Zealand no venue has seen more sub 4 minute performances. The 63 recorded in Whanganui have come from 41 different athletes from nine different countries.

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Cooks Classic organiser Alec McNab said the first mile championship was won by Sam Pentecost of Canterbury in 1898 with the first overseas winner Jas Power of the USA in 1914.

"The first time that the mile was run in less than 4 minutes was in Peter Snell's famous world record of 3.54.4 in 1962," McNab said.

"The track record was set by Nick Willis, who with five sub 4 minute efforts has run the most at Cooks Gardens, with an unforgettable 3.52.75 in 2006. He went on to impressively win the Commonwealth Games later that year repeating his Cooks Gardens win over Australian rival Craig Mottram. The third placegetter on that memorable night was Mo Farrah who hasn't done too badly in the sport since then."

The Cooks Gardens Mile roll of honour contains so many of the greats in the sport beyond the aforementioned athletes.

"Britain's Bruce Tulloh, who finished behind Snell on that night in 1962, Jurgen May of East Germany in running 3.53.8 seconds set the fastest mile ever run on a grass track and on that night in 1965 he also defeated the great Kipchoge Keino of Kenya (3.54.9).

"The list included New Zealand Olympic greats Dick Quax, Rod Dixon and the great John Walker who became the first athlete to run the mile in less than 3 minutes 60 seconds."
Russell Sears, who did so much work in promoting the laying of the all-weather track at Cooks Gardens in 1996, has compiled a record of the mile in Whanganui. He and the rest of the organisers see how it is important that Cooks Gardens continues to attract leading athletes to the city.

"The Cooks Classic is not only the home of the 'One Mile Championship', but also has exciting and at time innovative supporting events.

"This year's Classic is seen as vital as there are major plans to grow the event in the future. We are extremely grateful to our sponsors for their continued support allowing for the incentives outlined in yesterday's Chronicle," McNab said.

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"This support has been vital in retaining the event. It is disappointing in a year when for the first time we had three athletes in the Olympic Games at 1500 metres none are available to run at Cooks Gardens this year.

"Nick Willis is taking a competitive break for most of this New Zealand summer in an approach to extend his impressive career to run at his 4th Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Julian Matthews is injured and Hamish Carson is concentrating on the 3000 metre championships in Wellington next Friday."

The entry numbers for the event has necessitated the running of a B race.

There are two Australians and two Japanese in the field in the A race. Eric Speakman who was third in last year's race with the 63rd sub 4 minute mile will take the field through 1200 metres in an attempt to add to the impressive roll of honour.

The Classic starts at 7pm on Tuesday evening with high jump and a 100 metre hurdles.
The compact programme not only includes the New Zealand 3000 metre under 20 championships, but sprinting, relays, throwing and jumping culminating in the mile at 9.05pm.

The children are represented with the "Fastest kid on the block" at 7.50pm and they will be welcomed in novel fashion. Artists in town for Opera Week have been invited to sing the kids onto the track for their event.

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Other leading events include the shot where Olympic finalist Jacko Gill is looking to break the ground record, and the winner takes all handicap Javelin and the 400 metres features Australian Alex Rowe in handicap action against 15 other athletes.