New Zealand Olympian high jumper Hamish Kerr returns to the Pak'nSave Cooks Classic on Sunday, January 30, and will seek to take the Classic and himself to new heights.
As an Oceania Permit Meeting for World Athletics, the bar has been raised in terms of organisational requirements.
At last year's Classic, Kerr broke his stadium record with a 2.27m jump. This was the start of an outstanding year for the Canterbury jumper. He set a New Zealand record of 2.31m and went on to finish 10th in his debut Olympics in a high jump that saw a dramatic sharing of the gold medal between friends and rivals Italian Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Essa Barshim (Bahrain). Kerr demonstrated maturity in the qualifying round and in the final jumped 2.30m and came tantalisingly close to jumping 2.33m, 2cm higher than his national record.
Kerr has won six New Zealand high jump titles and on last year's rankings and was 26cm better than the next-ranked New Zealander. When Kerr set the New Zealand record at 2.31m he went ahead of Glenn Howard - who set the record in 2000 - with whom he had shared the record at 2.30m. The third-best New Zealand jump was set by Roger Te Puni in 1990 with his 2.24m jump
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Kerr will be jumping in Hawera on January 26 in the annual Jumps to Music. The popular meet features just jumping events with athletes choosing their own music as they are called up to jump. Kerr's coach Terry Lomax - Athletics New Zealand lead coach for jumps and combined events who had a long illustrious career as a high jumper starting at the inaugural New Zealand Schools in 1973 and is still fifth equal on the all-time rankings - has indicated that Kerr's training has gone well and is hopeful of a positive start in Hawera and Whanganui. He has to jump high to break his own stadium record and hopefully, will set the course for a year of further progress. Lomax will again be giving a commentary at the high jump for spectators close to the action at the Cooks St main entrance.
While Kerr's competition is himself and how high he jumps, the women's field is larger and very competitive. With four days until entries close, we have six of last year's top 12 jumping. Josephine Reeves was second ranked last year with a jump of 1.83m. Reeves has a best of 1.86 and that means that the stadium record set by Tokyo bronze medallist Australian Nicola McDermott with her 1.83m effort in 2015 is under threat. Among the field are two high jumpers from the New Zealand Secondary Schools team: Jess Hendren and Amelia de Latour, ranked fifth and seventh respectively last year, will add depth to the field and will gain from the experience.
The first club night of 2022 was held on Tuesday and, although in the middle of the holiday period, had considerably more January competitors than at the year opener in recent years. The conditions were perfect and we all hope the weather will be like this for the Cooks Classic.
Nat Kirk, a member of the New Zealand Schools team competing at the end of the month, impressed in a hand-timed 300m hurdles when he was well inside his personal best stopping the clock at 38.0 seconds. This bodes well for his 400m hurdles at the Classic.
It is clear he is coming into good form and the New Zealand Schools bronze medal winner in 2020 looks set to perform well over the second half of the season. Whanganui High School teammate and fellow New Zealand Schools representative Maggie Jones ran an encouraging best hand-timed 150m (19.4). Paige Cromarty, who will be running her first 400m hurdles at the Classic, was almost a second inside her previous best with her 47.4 on Tuesday that should provide a timely confidence boost. Travis Bayler impressed over 600m and being paced over the first lap came home well in 1:23.5, which betters his best 2021 performance. Fourteen-year-old Olivia Gilbertson should be pleased with her 1:49.1, which was substantially under her target time.
The lower North Island Classic series starts on Saturday with the Potts Classics in Hastings, where entries have been excellent including a small group from Whanganui. The Pak'nSave Cooks Classic is eight days later on the 30th and ends with the Capital Classic on Friday, February 5. The Cooks Classic entries do not close until Monday next week and are encouragingly higher than at the same stage last year.