The New Zealand Track and Field season is over but it is just at the start in the northern hemisphere with former Whanganui athletes making an early impact in the US.
I have indicated previously that Whanganui has provided a sound start for many athletes who have gone on to future success.
The northern season has started well for two former Whanganui Collegiate middle-distance athletes. William Sinclair (Missouri) set a huge personal best over 5000 metres (14:06.75) and Liam Back (Providence) set a nine-second best over 1500m (3:45.47) at the same meeting in Raleigh.
A week later Sinclair bettered this with a 14:04.40, continuing his good form last weekend with a personal best 1500m in Des Moines, Iowa, with an excellent 3:43.19. Back followed his Raleigh 1500m with a mile a week later in Providence clocking 4:03.23.
A number of former Whanganui athletes have taken US scholarships to further their careers. Dean Crowe, who in his final year at school in 1978 anchored his Wanganui Boys College team to win the inaugural Round the Lake Relay, took a scholarship to Boston. Crowe went on to represent Oceania at the World Cup in Canberra and sits at 20th in the New Zealand All-time 5000m with his 13:32.65 run in Cologne, Germany.
Two other Whanganui athletes went to Boston: Julia Nazzer and Elizabeth Auld. Auld returned to New Zealand to complete her degree and won an Oceania title over 1500m on her return, while Nazzer married and stayed stateside. Nazzer and Auld had attended Whanganui Collegiate, Auld coming from Nga Tawa at the start of her Year 12.
Shaun Walsh, who attended Wanganui Boys College and was a member of Whanganui School's first cross country tour to Australia, won a scholarship to South Carolina. Melissa Gilbertson, who won New Zealand medals while at Whanganui High School and added to these in the first year of co-education at Whanganui Collegiate in 1991 as a sixth year secondary student, won a scholarship to Oklahoma and went on to represent New Zealand. Qualifying in physiotherapy, she has held physiotherapy appointments in high performance sport. Hamish Smith, who had won a New Zealand under-18 1500m title while at Whanganui Collegiate was one of the earlier scholarships in the 1990s in Colorado with success over 5000m.
On a visit to America in 2008 I caught up with Holly and Lucy van Dalen at Stony Brook, and Whanganui Collegiate teammate Hugo Beamish at Villanova in Philadelphia. I also met former Whanganui High School athlete Carl Mckenzie, who attended Villanova at the same time. All had successful careers, with McKenzie achieving an outstanding 3:41.99 over 1500m.
Beamish represented New Zealand at the World Cross Country and World University Games. The van Dalen twins became "All Americans", winning a NCAA Division 1 team title in cross country. Lucy became a double Olympian and won a NCAA individual title.
Beamish's younger brother George (Geordie) who finished at Northern Arizona last year also won a NCAA Division 1 Cross Country title with Northern Arizona and an individual NCAA mile title Indoors and is now running professionally in the US. Christian Conder is on a scholarship in Florida.
There are many debates about the merits of US scholarships and the loss to the sport at home with so many overseas. Some who have gone to the US have not returned, although many have.
Many of the athletes they competed against in New Zealand had successful careers as locally based athletes while others have sadly been lost to the sport. Max Attwell who was at school with George Beamish has won four consecutive New Zealand Decathlon titles and was fourth at the last World University Championships while based in Christchurch.
Alex Wallace, another contemporary of Attwell, spent time in New Zealand coached by Tony Rogers before winning a scholarship to Providence. Caroline Mellsop, also coached by Rogers after leaving school, ran at the World Junior Championships in 2010 in Moncton Canada and ran well in New Zealand until injury curtailed her career. Former Cullinane College student Brad Mathas won eight consecutive New Zealand 800m titles. Mathas, now domiciled in Melbourne, retained his Athletics Whanganui membership, was 5th at the last Commonwealth Games over 800m and ran an outstanding personal best last month of 1:46.01.
Two leading Whanganui junior athletes Genna Maples and Tayla Brunger will be our latest two to further their education in America, departing in August, Maples to Southern California and Brunger to Colorado State University and will be featured in a later article.
I would like to hear if I have missed any from this extensive list and offer my apologies if there has been an omission.