The North Island Schools Track and Field Championships to be held in Hamilton at the weekend will bring the curtain down on a busy season.
Last year's North Islands were cancelled (Covid-19 Lockdown) which means that a record number of young athletes will make their debut this weekend. The event takes on extra significance as the Under 18 grade at the New Zealand Championships has been postponed until later in the year.
For Whanganui athletes the North Islands closes a busy season with Cooks Gardens at the centre of athletic activity this summer. For the first time in three years Whanganui hosted a home Regional Meeting in early November at which local athletes benefited with ideal preparation for New Zealand Schools four weeks later.
The Pak'n Save Cooks Classic on January 30 had record entries and an outstanding evening of athletics shared by many on an excellent live stream. The next day more than 300 walked and ran a mile on the famous Cooks Gardens track in the Sir Peter Snell Mile Challenge, which will grow and become a major event on our calendar.
A week after the Cooks Classic and the Snell Challenge our busy officials were back in action conducting the track and field section of the successful New Zealand Masters Games, which recorded an encouraging growth in participants from two years earlier.
Only 10 days later Whanganui hosted the second week of the Manawatu/Whanganui Centre Championships. Although in Alert Level 2 the Club conducted an excellent event. The Sport Whanganui organised Whanganui Secondary Schools Championships in perfect conditions under the management of Harry Unsworth was a March highlight. This concluded a busy few weeks where individual schools ran their own Championships at Cooks Gardens and from which a team has been selected to compete for Whanganui at the North Island Championships.
Cooks Gardens was used for over 50 athletics events through summer including primary, intermediate and secondary schools championships as well as weekly senior and junior club nights in addition to the aforementioned major events. The venue is in constant use for training, making it a hugely valuable asset for our community.
The 52-strong team representing Whanganui Secondary Schools at the North Island Schools Championships at the weekend is a mixture of experience and athletes making their first step up to the next level.
The cancellation of last year's competition has added to the number making their North Island debut. The step can be daunting for many attending their first championships but history has shown those that grasp the opportunity and return with a determination to succeed have achieved in the sport.
Athletes such as Lucy van Dalen (first decade of the millennium), Martin Holmes (1980s) and Marguerite Couchman (1970s) finished near the tail of their respective middle-distance fields on debut but by the end of their school careers had climbed to the top of the podium and later international success.
Whanganui Collegiate and Whanganui High School athletes make up most of the team following their success at Whanganui Secondary Schools in March when they combined to win more than 80 per cent of the titles.
Medal winners from December's New Zealand Secondary Schools return with hope to again challenge for podium spots.
Maggie Jones won the 300m hurdles and was second in the 100m hurdles in December and was Whanganui's best performer at the championships and with the under-18 championships postponed, will be determined to make her mark in Hamilton. Jones will be supported by High School training partners Casie Glentworth and Charlotte Baker.
Paige Cromarty (Girls College) provides genuine depth to the field. Whanganui has three in the senior boys field including New Zealand Schools hurdle bronze medal winner Nat Kirk and High School teammate Flynn Johnston, silver medal winner at the recent under-20 New Zealand 400m hurdles and Whanganui Collegiate Team captain Daniel Taylor.
Lucas Martin - winner of the 10,000m walk at the New Zealand Championships - renews his battle with Daniel de Toit (Wellington) over the 3000m walk. Du Toit defeated Marti in December with Martin winning in Hastings at the New Zealand Championships
Junior athletes who finished just outside of the medals in December often make their mark in April in the intermediate grade. Daniel Sinclair was fifth in December over 1500m at junior level but has in recent weeks taken a further 5 seconds off his best and should be competitive in a strong field, as will teammate Louise Brabyn, fifth in the girls 1500m; she has made similar progress. Bella Willis was fifth in the junior girls 200m and hopes to successfully step up the 400m.
As in the past, new faces will emerge, on which I look forward to reporting next week.