Over the past three weeks, the outstanding success of Whanganui athletes has been highlighted through this column, leaving only the naming of the athletes of the season.
Whanganui athletes gained an outstanding 27 national medals at the Athletics New Zealand and New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships, 11 of which were gold.
Relay combinations gained a further seven medals, including gold from the Whanganui Collegiate Senior Girls at New Zealand Schools and from the all-Whanganui quartet for Manawatu/Whanganui at the Athletics New Zealand Championships in the under-20 women's 4 x 100.
These totals do not include the four medals won by evergreen Francis Bayler at New Zealand Masters (including two golds). Not only was Bayler a leading masters athlete, she was a hard-working and ever-present official – a huge asset to the Whanganui club.
At New Zealand Schools, Whanganui Collegiate had the best top-eight performances of any of the more than 200 schools competing and topped the medal tally. Whanganui High School had the second-best top eight record at the meet. With a large exodus of older athletes coming, these performances will be hard to repeat.
In selecting the best male and female athlete and best overall athlete, I have sought the help of a wide range of selectors from throughout the country.
The list of 17 asked to vote included three current New Zealand Secondary Schools selectors, three current Athletics New Zealand selectors, a national coach, a former leading Whanganui athlete at Athletics New Zealand and others with wide athletic knowledge and interest.
Making such a selection is not easy as the panel members were not only asked to compare athletes involved in different athletic disciplines but also, in the final selection, to compare male and female athletes.
The panel was provided with a shortlist based on athletes in the top four in New Zealand rankings and national medal winners. New Zealand Schools juniors were not considered unless they also competed at the Athletics New Zealand Championships or were winners in the NZSS junior grade.
Club captain Travis Bayler, who was just outside the medals and has made huge progress over 800m, was added to the list.
The panel was asked to vote for the best and runner-up in each gender and the best and runner-up overall. A simple scoring table was created from the responses.
Liam Back was a clear leader in the male grades following his New Zealand Schools win at 1500m and second place in the 800m at the same championships. A tactical error in the 800m probably cost him the chance to become the first athlete since Nick Willis to win the double.
These performances were backed up with a silver in the under-20 1500m at the New Zealand Championships. Back was ranked highly in events from 800m to 3000m.
As the leading Athletics Wanganui middle-distance runner, he retains the Toby Bowyer Trophy named in honour of the outstanding coach and administrator, the late Toby Bowyer.
Fifteen-year-old race walker Lucas Martin was runner-up with Andres Hernandez in third place.
Martin won two Athletics New Zealand gold medals over the 3000m and 10,000m walk in the under-20 grade. His effort over the 10,000m was an especially meritorious performance when he stopped the clock at 48m 24.23s, an outstanding performance for a young walker.
Hernandez, although battling injury problems for much of the season, impressed on both track and road. Hernandez topped the under-20 5000m rankings and broke the New Zealand under-18 6000m road record.
Tayla Brunger, following her outstanding March, was voted top female athlete by a comfortable margin. Brunger won two gold medals over 100m and 200m at the New Zealand Championships in the under-20 grade and added a silver in the 400m.
She later went to the top in the under-20 rankings in her last 400m of the season with a performance that also put her second in the open rankings.
Sophie Williams, who in December broke the under-16 NZSS 100m record which had stood since 1973, was runner-up. Williams, who was injured in December, missed almost all of 2020, losing the chance to challenge more strongly in the voting.
Genna Maples was close in third. Maples won both the New Zealand Schools and New Zealand under-18 long jumps and won two further sprint medals at New Zealand Schools.
Young hurdler Maggie Jones, in fourth, gained votes following her excellent season and I name her as the outstanding new face of the season.
Tayla Brunger was voted as the outstanding overall athlete (22 vote points) ahead of Liam Back (18 points). Sophie Williams was third, closely followed by Genna Maples and Lucas Martin.