Over the years Cooks Gardens has earned its reputation of being a great venue for middle distance running.
Sixty-two times following Peter Snell's world record on the grass in 1962 have runners broken the four-minute barrier at the iconic venue with a whole raft of other top middle-distance performances.
It is therefore not surprising that over the six decades since Peter Snell's memorable record, Whanganui athletes have made their way to the podium and been nationally ranked.
The first two decades following that Snell record saw runners such as Kevin Ross (later to be a member of the world record breaking 4 x 1 mile team), Lew Boosey, Bev Shingles, Geoff Blackmore and Dean Crowe come to national prominence.
In the 1980s Dean Crowe went on to run for Oceania at the World Cup and Marguerite Buist (nee Couchman) ran at World Universities and later for New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games and in that decade their example was followed by younger runners such as Martin Holmes, Peter Swinburn, Hamish Smith, Russell Aldridge, Shaun Walsh, Michael Silk, Duncan Ross, Elizabeth Auld and Sarah McLeod.
The millennium brought another crop of well-performed athletes, many of whom followed Dean Crowe, Shaun Walsh and Elizabeth Auld to the USA. These included Hugo and Geordie Beamish, Holly and Lucy van Dalen (later a double Olympian), Julia Nazzer, Sarah Tatton, Alex Wallace and Antoine Bonnet.
The past season particularly in the male ranks Whanganui has boasted a crop of outstanding runners. Liam Back again featured strongly winning the New Zealand Schools Championships and narrowly missed joining the great Nick Willis as the only senior boy to take the 800m/1500m double.
The usually tactically reliable Back made an error going for the decisive break with 200 metres to go into the howling Wellington wind and was gunned down over the final metres of the race to finish with silver.
William Sinclair, now resident in the Waikato, tops our 1500 metre rankings with his outstanding podium finish at the Porritt Classic, stopping the clock in 3:49.68. Sadly, he was injured for the national championships for his debut in the senior ranks where he looked to be in contention for a high-placed finish.
Zach Bellamy had a heady end of the prematurely early finish to the season, running 1:52.92 over 800 metres in the special 800 metres at Cooks Gardens which replaced the cancelled Sir Peter Snell meeting.
Bellamy set a four-second personal best. In the same race Liam Back, in finishing 4th in the quality field, went to the top of the club 800 metres rankings with his time of 1:51.25.
Bellamy made another performance leap a week later in Palmerston North over 1500m, jumping ahead of Back to go second in our 1500m rankings with his excellent 3:54.67 effort. Back probably regrets bypassing that last chance meet.
Club Captain Travis Bayler was 4th in our 800 metre rankings (1:55.56). It is some time since the club has had four two-lappers who have bettered 1minute 56.
As a first year Junior (under 20) Bellamy goes to 4th in the under New Zealand 20 rankings, a place behind Back in the 800 metres but one ahead of Back over 1500m.
Back has the second-best ranking nationally over 3000 metres running in that outstanding New Zealand under 20 Championships at Cooks Gardens with Andres Hernandez ranking one place lower.
Hernandez ranked second in the New Zealand Junior 3000 metre steeplechase with fellow steeplechaser George Lambert third in the under 18 grade.
Our females have not been quite as prominent as the males but many are young and have demonstrated outstanding promise.
Rebecca Baker tops our 1500 metre rankings and is third in our 800 metres. Baker, who in August ran cross country for NZ Schools, has focused on her hockey but has continued to be impressive on the track for which I am sure her hockey coach and team have reaped the benefit.
Tayla Brunger has the top 800 metre ranking with only one real run over the distance clocking 2:17.16 ahead of New Zealand Schools junior bronze medal winner Ana Brabyn (2:17.17).
Brunger, who has impressed in sprints and will feature next week when I review sprinters, clearly has both versatility and potential.
New Zealand Schools Cross Country captain Sarah Lambert topped our 3000 metre and was second in the 1500 metre. Ashleigh Alabaster slotted in at third and tops our Steeplechase rankings with Mackenzie Morgan bouncing in at 4th nationally following her debut over barriers. Morgan and Josephine Perkins are two younger athletes who look poised to make an impact next season.
My pick for Middle Distance Athlete of the Year is Liam Back, who won the New Zealand Schools 1500 metres and mounted the podium nationally a further three times.