On Monday, a week later than scheduled, the Whanganui Secondary Schools Cross Country was successfully conducted under alert level 2 stipulations on the Whanganui Collegiate golf course circuit.
The weather forecast had been far from favourable but the event escaped the expected rain, with excellent running conditions. To meet requirements of gatherings below 100, the girls' and boys' races were separated by one hour without spectators, although a group of supporters gathered to watch from over the fence. The nature of the spectator-friendly course meant they were able to see most of the races as they unfolded while many others watched the livestream provided by Sport Whanganui on its Facebook page.
Whanganui Collegiate running may have taken the lion's share of the titles, with five of the six individual titles and nine of the 12 team titles, but these did not come without tenacious opposition and excellent performances from athletes from all six schools competing.
The senior individual titles went with the form book. New Zealand Schools international George Lambert won the senior race from team-mate Ben Conder, with NZ Schools triathlon medal-winner Hunter Gibson in third for a Collegiate trifecta. First year senior Nat Kirk (High School), a year younger, finished in fourth with an excellent senior debut. Lambert ran through the 3000 metres in a time that equalled his time in June at the Collegiate Championships and then maintained this pace for the third 1500-metre lap to win by 39 seconds, completing the 4.5km in 14m 15s. This will provide a real confidence boost for Lambert before Saturday's Athletics New Zealand Challenge in Dunedin (the New Zealand Cross Country Championship has been renamed, recognising that Aucklanders under alert level 3 are unable to attend).
Mackenzie Morgan, who will also be in Dunedin at the weekend, won the senior girls title, completing the 3000-metre journey in 10m 45s (26 seconds faster than at the Collegiate Championships). Morgan had a strong challenge from Emma Ferguson (Nga Tawa), who finished only 11 seconds in arrears. Ferguson is still a junior (under 16) but moved up a grade to strengthen the Nga Tawa team. This proved successful as with Adelaide Roper in third position and Harriet Whitfield fourth, Nga Tawa won a deserved three-to-score title by 5 points from Collegiate.
Daniel Sinclair (Collegiate) won the junior title with the biggest winning margin of the day (41 seconds) from Cade Knight and Jack Payne (Whanganui High School), setting up a close team race, with Collegiate winning by just one point (10-11). High School reversed the result in the six-to-score team (35-44).
Whanganui Collegiate had another trifecta in the junior girls, with Josephine Perkins holding out the fast finish from Year 10 student Louise Brabyn to win by three seconds. Annabel Symes was third. Collegiate won both junior team titles with Nga Tawa second in the three-to-score ahead of Whanganui High School in third position with High School taking second in the six-to-score.
Year 9 races are always good, with new faces making their first appearance for their schools. The boys' event was won impressively by promising Whanganui High School athlete Thomas Gowan (10m 48s). TawaI Pinnock of City College was second with Toby Corcoran (Whanganui Collegiate) third. In another close team race, Whanganui High School took the three-to-score from Collegiate by one point with a reversal of the result in the six-to-score.
Theodora Gempton (Whanganui Collegiate), featured in last week's article, won the Year 9 girls' race (12:04) from team-mate Mady Petley with a 21-second winning margin. Carrie Rennie (High School) was in third, with Collegiate prevailing by two points from High School in the three-to-score team event. Girls College was third. Collegiate won by a wider margin in the six-to-score team event.
Many athletes hope to make the journey to Hāwera for the New Zealand Schools Championships on September 19 and, like many, will anxiously await the Government decision on alert levels on September 6.
Whanganui School Cross Country Champions
All races 3km except senior boys 4.5km
Year 9 boys: Thomas Gowan 10:48 (WHS); 3 to score teams WHS; 6 to score teams WCS.
Year 9 girls: Theodora Gempton 12:04 (WCS); 3 and 6 to score teams WCS.
Junior boys: Daniel Sinclair 9:59 (WCS); 3 to score team WCS; 6 to score team WHS.
Junior girls: Josephine Perkins 11:45 (WCS); 3 and 6 to score teams WCS.
Senior boys: George Lambert 14:15 (WCS); 2 and 6 to score teams WCS.
Senior girls: Mackenzie Morgan 10:49 (WCS); 3 to score team Nga Tawa; 5 to score team WCS.