Alec McNab reports this week from Los Angeles.
The Bryan Clay Invitational at Azusa Pacific University with its massive 2600 entries from universities from many states provided an impressive tour opening for a group of young Whanganui athletes.
The depth of competition and the sheer size of the meeting was mind-blowing. Young athletes do not often get the chance to run in the same competition and rub shoulders with the world class Dutch sprinter Dafne Schippers. However, Schippers ran in Division 1 and our own Olivia Seymour in Division 12.
After 12 hours at the stadium I left with the 12-strong touring group only to find that former Wanganui Collegiate distance star Geordie Beamish had run in the second to top Division only 10 minutes after our departure. There were no less than 12 Divisions with 20 in each 1500 metre race. Such was the size of the meet that I did not even know he was running.
Sadly I missed a sensational run from Beamish in the second to top division. Beamish ran a huge best of 3:41.87 (converts to a sub 4 mile).
The tour opened at the Clay Invitational when the Wanganui Collegiate 4x100 ran against a selection of university combinations. The team of Lexi Maples, Jordan Hume, Olivia Seymour and Grace Godfrey finished second in the third division with a calendar year best of 49.97 seconds. The changeovers from a team that had only one practice since Whanganui Secondary Schools (Wednesday prior to the Friday competition) were excellent and after only four days this was an encouraging start.
Maples had been over in California for a fortnight as her main focus had been the Arcadia Invitational Heptathlon a week earlier where she had finished midfield only a few points shy of her medal winning performance in Dunedin in February.
At Arcadia Maples did not have the advantage of the strong favourable Dunedin wind in hurdles, long jump and 200 metres and she disappointed in her usually reliable shot putt.
However, she gained invaluable experience and should be heartened by her 800 metre personal best and sound high jump where she only narrowly missed at a personal best of 1.55 metres.
Maples faced a totally different test at the Clay Invitational. There were 71 entries in high jump divided into two pools. Our athletes have quickly adapted to the American efficiency of dealing with big fields where athletes are called in groups of three. "Lexi up, Olivia on deck and Grace on hold".
Harder to adapt to was that the opening height of 1.53 metres - daunting when your personal best is 1.54 metres. Maples cleared well on her second attempt and then only just missed at 1.58m (a Collegiate School record). The second attempt being the closest.
It would have been good to end her tour with a school record.
Grace Godfrey finished third in her 400 metre division with an outstanding tour opener of 57.48 seconds. Although slower than her North Island silver medal performance (57.17) was still almost a second faster than he pre-North Island best. A day later Godfrey finished second in Division 16 of the 200 metres at the equally large Beach Invitational at Long Beach. Her time of 25.87 was her first under 26 seconds which bodes well for her 400 metres in the remaining meets in San Diego and Irvine. Godfrey is fully grasping the opportunity that California is providing.
Olivia Seymour who has battled health and injury this year ran slightly faster than in her North Island final running 13.04 (13.05 in Inglewood) Seymour although running with a tail wind (+2.3) ran her first sub 13 second run since New Zealand Schools to finish third in her race. Seymour stopped the clock at 12.93 seconds (personal best 12.90) which provides a timely confidence boost.
Relay team mate Jordan Hume who has also battled injury ran her usual competent relay leg but battled over 400 metres in Azusa running over a second outside of her best. I had recommended missing the Beach Invitational the following day saving herself for the Triton meet in San Diego at the end of the week. Hume insisted on running in the 800 metres.
Although finishing near to the tail of the field with a time just outside of her best she demonstrated determination going through 600 metres 5 seconds faster than her personal best.
While the younger tourists ran in Long Beach, Palmerston North Masters athlete Vanessa Story, who trains regularly at Cooks Gardens, ran 15 minutes away at the prestigious Mt Sac Relays in a special Masters 100 metres. Story took second in a classy Masters field.
The team is based at Yorba Linda, south of LA with good training facilities at the Yorba Linda High School and in accommodation handily placed for competitions. The next meet is in San Diego at the weekend and ends a week later at the Steve Scott meet in Irvine.