There was cheerful energy in persistent rain at the Tawhero Golf Course when more than 120 local school athletes competed in their teams at the Whanganui Secondary Schools Cross Country Relays on Wednesday.
Despite the continuous rain, athletes clearly enjoyed the team aspect that relays provide. Athletes who ran at last year's New Zealand Schools Championships, when it rained heavily throughout, were reminded of that June day in Hāwera. Thankfully, it was milder on Wednesday, unlike Hāwera, and with little wind. The rain became increasingly heavy during the hour of racing at Tawhero.
Organisation is always tested by weather, and Harry Unsworth and his Sport Whanganui team rose superbly to the occasion. The changed start/finish by River City Golf was successful and we are grateful for the support of the event from River City Golf. Above all, the athletes responded with the camaraderie and vocal support that relays invariably provide.
The course was excellent. It was shortened by 200 or 300m to avoid large heavily flooded areas at the Gonville Domain end, reducing each leg to just over 1500m.
Louise Brabyn, who in the evening was awarded the Toby Bowyer Trophy as Whanganui's leading middle-distance athlete at the Athletics Whanganui AGM, led from the start, giving her Whanganui Collegiate team a healthy lead. Brabyn stopped the clock at 5 minutes 10 seconds, which was almost certainly the fastest girls lap of the day. Amy McHardy anchored the team to a convincing win. Last week at Karori, McHardy ran a few seconds faster than Brabyn with a reversal at Tawhero. McHardy ran her leg in 5 minutes 16 seconds.
Hannah Byam ran a heady first lap and had her Year 9 Whanganui Collegiate team into second in the combined race. They slipped back a little but were the Year 9 winners. The Whanganui Collegiate School junior girls team was second across the line, gaining significantly on other teams after an outstanding Greta Darke anchor leg.
It was good to see successful track athletes, such as the Rennie sisters, contributing strongly to their Whanganui High School team and New Zealand hurdle medal winner Paige Cromarty for Girls' College.
The Whanganui High School Year 9 boys team was anchored by Blake Candish, who had performed so well at the Whanganui Secondary Schools Track and Field. He looked impressive to bring his team home to victory, preventing a Whanganui Collegiate School clean sweep of the three boys grades.
The Whanganui Collegiate School senior boys team, following what might have been the school's first senior boys win at the Wellington Karori Relays six days earlier, started as clear favourite. James Hercus gave them the perfect start with his team's fastest time, although strongly challenged by teammate race walker Lucas Martin from the B team. Track star Nat Kirk (High School) ensured the B team had to work for their second place. Kirk said at the Athletic Club dinner in the evening that, hopefully, the Tawhero run would be his last cross-country.
The Whanganui Collegiate junior team won their grade after some tight competition from High School and Cullinane College.
The relays were successful and hopefully will grow with more teams entered as athletes discover the magic of team relays. A warm sunny day would help.
Athletics Wanganui held its AGM on Tuesday evening. Covid-19 delays had led to the postponement in November. It seemed strange reviewing the 2020-21 season.
Reports emphasised that Covid-19 had made a large impact over two years but there had been much to celebrate, as indicated in my reviews of the season in this column.
The committee will continue until October when the annual finances for this year will be submitted and new officers elected. In the meantime, we were pleased to welcome Russell Sears from Whanganui Sports Heritage Trust, who was co-opted to the committee after a gap of some years.
At Tuesday's meeting, the annual statement demonstrated how important the New Zealand Masters Games is to both the city and the club (the 2021 Games came into the 2020-21 year) and a wish was expressed to provide more Masters events in the leadup to the 2023 Games. The challenge is there for local Masters athletes to take advantage of these events in the weekly programme as they prepare for the 2023 New Zealand Masters Games in February.
The AGM was followed by a dinner at Stellar where our volunteers and our major sponsor were recognised. Our sport and the whole of New Zealand depend on them.