The wonderful run of weather that took us through the Cooks Classic, The Mile Challenge, Masters Games and week 1 of the Centre Championships continued through the Porritt Classic in Hamilton at the weekend.
It finally ended at a windswept and chilly week 2 of the Manawatu Whanganui Championships on Tuesday at Cooks Gardens.
There were, however, darker clouds hanging over the athletes on Tuesday as they anxiously awaited Government decisions on any change to Covid-19 alert levels following Sunday's announcement. It would make major events such as Saturday's Capital Classic virtually impossible to organise under alert level 2 without lengthening and separating events to keep within the 100 stipulated limit on gatherings. The Whanganui club was able to achieve this on Tuesday by conducting only championship events without spectators.
The Porritt Classic in Hamilton always draws large entries. The combination of major Permit events, open and school events makes the long journey north well worthwhile with the glorious, mostly still, conditions an added bonus.
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Whanganui hurdlers were to the fore from the first gun as New Zealand Schools 300m hurdle champion Maggie Jones ran a personal best 43.87 to win the under-18 300m hurdles impressively by over half a second and further back Whanganui's Pascale Bowie, battling an injury, ran a personal best 50.84 in sixth position. Jones also ran fourth in the major Permit 100m hurdles in an excellent 14.78 over the higher women's height - a time that matched her winning run over the lower height at the Centre Championships in Palmerston North four days earlier.
Finn O'Sullivan from Christchurch, who has joined Whanganui Collegiate this year, made it two Whanganui victories in a row by winning the men's 300m hurdles in a personal best 40.73. A few minutes after O'Sullivan's win, Flynn Johnstone had his debut over 400m hurdles in the main race with an excellent first up effort of 57.64. With Johnstone's high school team mate Nat Kirk injured, and O'Sullivan joined by his Collegiate captain Daniel Taylor, the Whanganui Schools 3000m hurdle events could be something to savour.
Whanganui Collegiate headed north with one team trophy (the Willis Girls' 1500m relay - 300m and 3 x 400m) and returned with two, winning the boys' event. The latter had little true opposition but it did not stop the team of Daniel Sinclair, Daniel Taylor, O'Sullivan and Jonty Tripe running hard with a series of strong legs including a fastest over one lap for O'Sullivan. The girls' combination of Bella Willis, Josephine Perkins, Louise Brabyn and Lucy Brown had a more competitive outing and were convincing winners. The school team events make the journey north worthwhile and help lay a foundation for the demanding March programme.
Sickness and injury depleted the Whanganui Collegiate team in the Diann Rodger Girls Team 1500m race, won on many occasions in the past. Louise Brabyn, although outside her personal best when finishing fourth at New Zealand Schools, was fifth in 5:01.81. The team ran solidly for third but had Mackenzie Morgan and Josephine Perkins been available it could have been a tight team race. George Lambert was first Collegiate runner home in eighth in a personal best 4:14.00 in the large 36-strong field. His young team mate Daniel Sinclair fell heavily in the mass start and was in catch-up mode from then on. He finished a bruised 12th in 4:24.62.
Four days earlier Sinclair had set a 5-second personal best over 800m in perfect conditions in Palmerston North at the MWA Championships, indicating his rapid progress as a middle distance runner. Sinclair stepped back on the Cooks Gardens track for the windy MWA 1500m open championship on Tuesday, running a controlled and relaxed race to finish in third in 4:16.5 - an excellent way to overcome a setback.
Former Whanganui athlete Lexi Maples threw her 4kg hammer out to a new personal best of 53.77 to finish fourth in a star-studded Hamilton field, while her sister Genna has made good progress from injury with promising early performances over 200m in Hamilton and Palmerston North and riding the big 4m/second tail wind in Whanganui on Tuesday to finish third behind the Collette sisters from Palmerston North. Cheyille was the winner in a hand timed 11.5 in the strong tail wind. Maples was frustrated not also to go under 12 seconds, finishing in 12.0 exactly. The men had an even strong wind with a 7.0 m/s tail to finish in 10.6 seconds.
Athletes sit with fingers crossed for the weeks ahead and hope that the very promising season goes as planned. Hopefully many will be in Wellington on Saturday.