The likely change from red to orange for Whanganui at the end of the month is welcome news for us all, including the organisers of the Cooks Classic to be held at Cooks Gardens on Sunday, January 30.
All organisers have had to deal with the multitude of problems and delays brought about by the pandemic. I have noted in previous Insight columns on how the Regional League successfully ran three meetings to meet and adapt to the regulations in place at the time of each of the rounds of the League.
The Cooks Classic organisers also have a contingency plan to operate under the red light should we revert to red and give certainty to the athletes.
The Covid situation within New Zealand and overseas has meant changes and delays in finalising the Cooks Classic, including approval from Oceania Athletics and its appointed technical director.
We were in fact well ahead of schedule regarding the Classic in recent years, even having to work around a delay the Classic by 24 hours to accommodate a wedding booked at Cooks Gardens on the desired date.
Even with the many delays and holdups, our entries should be online this week for the event at the end of January. One further victim of Covid and one that upset the Cooks Classic was the postponement of the Whanganui Vintage Weekend over Wellington Anniversary Weekend to Easter.
The popular Sir Peter Snell Challenge, which had its inauguration last year, was going to be linked to that weekend as part of the buildup to the Cooks Classic a week later. The Challenge was to have additional significance as Thursday, January 27, is the 60th anniversary of Sir Peter Snell's world-record mile at Cooks Gardens.
The participation run only four days before the anniversary followed by the return of the New Zealand Mile Championships at the Cooks Classic was especially attractive.
Organisers wish to retain the mile as an important part of Vintage Weekend and with this in mind, the Peter Snell Challenge will be run at Easter as part of the postponed Vintage Weekend.
The cancellation of the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships, which should have been this weekend at Inglewood, and the cancellation of last March's Athletics New Zealand Under 18s have left a major gap in the competition programme for leading school-age athletes and, without any overseas opportunities throughout last year and this year, it is some time since younger athletes last had the opportunity to represent New Zealand.
The New Zealand Secondary Schools Association, which had hoped to be able to combine its championships with the Athletics New Zealand Championships in Inglewood, has been looking for a way to plug this gap and offer an opportunity for a selected team to compete at the January and early-February Classic meetings (The Potts Classic on January 22 in Hastings, the Cooks Classic in Whanganui eight days later and the Capital Classic on Friday, February 5, in Wellington with throwers having an additional opportunity to wear the New Zealand Schools black singlet at the Sola Power meeting in the Hutt Valley on the same Waitangi weekend).
There were more than 90 expressions of interest from athletes highlighting the ambition of a large group of promising athletes. The five selectors are still in the process of deliberating on their decisions with a close analysis of personal bests, competitive records of candidates at last year's New Zealand Schools and performances and competitive record in both the respective North and South Island Schools Championships at the end of the summer term.
The selectors are aware there have been few competition opportunities for athletes north of the Bombay Hills and that any performances at the start of this season are in support of form last summer. There have, however, been some excellent recent performances including some from Aucklanders despite their limited opportunities. The team will be announced this week and is expected to have about 40 athletes competing at a combination of events at the three Classic meetings including our own Cooks Classic.
Among applications considered by the selectors were some from Whanganui athletes who will be anxiously awaiting the selection announcement, hoping they can wear the black singlet on their home track.
The Athletics Whanganui committee at the start of the week was briefed about the Cooks Classic and was finally able to confirm the club's contribution to the major traditional event, which brings leading athletes back to our iconic venue.
The Pak'nSave-sponsored Cooks Classic will give a much-needed boost to the sport at the start of what we all hope will be a better year. There will be considerably more detail in subsequent articles.