Huge crowds at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin and at Eden Park and happy sporting supporters and players throughout the country at the weekend celebrated the return of organised sport under alert level 1.
Local runners were able to move from virtual events to actual relays at Virginia Lake, running over the same course they had run independently and virtually earlier in the month.
George Lambert provided the fastest time, followed closely by Christian Conder and his brother Ben. Mackenzie Morgan was the leading female and Lucas Martin was again the leading walker. All produced faster times than they did in the virtual race.
There is now more certainty in planning and, as promised earlier in the month, I can outline some dates on the running calendar.
The Whanganui Schools will be held on Monday, August 17, the Manawatu/Whanganui Centre Championship is to be hosted by the Whanganui Harrier Club and is at present scheduled for Saturday, July 18 (to be confirmed); the Athletics New Zealand Cross Country is scheduled to be run in Dunedin on Saturday, August 29, and the popular Whanganui to Marton Relay will be held on Saturday, September 5, and will be a special event to mark 90 years.
The Round the Lake Relay, although only half the age, remains the oldest schools' relay event in the country, returning to wonderful Virginia Lake venue on Monday, September 7, the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships will be held in Hāwera on Saturday, September 19, with the relays the next day and the New Zealand Road Relays a fortnight later on October 2. There are busy times ahead for leading runners.
Local schools will be preparing for the Whanganui Schools and will be running their own championships in preparation.
The Whanganui Collegiate event, which will be held on the Collegiate Golf Course next Wednesday (June 24). Not only is the race being held almost a month later than usual but is being run within the golf course circuit. A new and more demanding course has been created and is very spectator-friendly.
A new 1500m lap has been designed with all grades running two laps (3000m). The undulating nature of the course with two sharp rises in each lap will test all competitors. The leading four runners combine as a scoring team in each of the three grades (six races in total). All runners are also running for standard points on a six-point scale creating a meaningful competition for all.
George Lambert, who has suffered the disappointment of missing out on a trip to Slovakia with the New Zealand Schools team to the cancelled ISF World Schools Championships, will start as outright favourite for the individual senior title.
His recent training has been outstanding and included the leading time last Saturday as mentioned earlier. Ben Conder who has faster track 1500m and 800m times should keep Lambert honest.
Mackenzie Morgan (still an intermediate) will be strong favourite in that division and is very likely to produce the fastest time of the day. Morgan was 10th in the New Zealand Schools junior grade last year while running for Wellington East.
Ana Brabyn, who, like Lambert, missed out on Slovakia, and Josephine Perkins should provide strong competition.
Ashleigh Alabaster and Emma Osborne look set to battle for the Senior girl's title. In the junior grade, the promising Daniel Sinclair and Louise Brabyn start as hot favourites.
Nga Tawa was the first school to hold their championships and held at the school just prior to Queen's Birthday weekend. The Year 9 race was won by Ngareta Kearns with Avadee Nowell in second place.
The junior (under 16 race was won by Emma Fergusson from Annie Airey). Adelaide Roper was the senior winner and crowned open champion with Georgina Bryant in second place.
Fergusson was only 20 seconds slower than the well-performed Roper producing the second-fastest time of the day.
Nga Tawa, first out of the blocks in the Whanganui districts, have given themselves time to prepare for the New Zealand Schools Championships on September 19.
As mentioned in a previous article the close venue provides an opportunity for Whanganui schools to shine. Nga Tawa have a good solid group on which to build success with Adelaide Roper, Emma Fergusson and Georgina Bryant all having previous national experience and could provide that vital foundation to providing a team challenge.
Roper will be particularly anxious to run as she was one of the athletes who missed out last December when the New Zealand Schools Road Race was cancelled because of the atrocious weather.
In the weeks ahead I will report on schools' cross-countries in preparation for the Whanganui Championships on Monday, August 17.