Maggie Jones' hurdle victories at North Island Schools brought the curtain down on a very successful season for the 16-year-old Year 12 high school student who tops the current Athletics New Zealand under-18 rankings in both 100m and 300m hurdles.
As highlighted in a recent article and pictured in the Chronicle on April 15 she led three other Whanganui athletes home at the North Island Champions to provide the top four places for Whanganui.
This was not the only time that we have been represented in depth in a major final. On at least three other occasions Whanganui athletes have had three athletes running in a final.
In 2019 in Wellington at New Zealand Schools Jones took gold and her Whanganui High School teammates Paris Munro took bronze and Casie Glentworth was fourth in the Junior Girls. Another Whanganui High School trio ran in finals in 1986 and in 1987 when Fiona Hogg won the gold medal, Kim Falconer was fourth and Kirsten Rennie was seventh.
The history of hurdling in Whanganui goes back a long way. Arthur Holder won the 100m sprint at the first race of the first meeting at Cooks Gardens in 1897. A year later he won the 120 yards hurdles at New Zealand Championships at Cooks Gardens. The injury sustained in that race ended a distinguished career that included a world best for 440 yards hurdles of 58.8 seconds. It should be noted that this was over fixed and heavy three-foot six-inch hurdles. Holder's New Zealand record remained for 30 years even though the hurdle height had been lowered twice to the current three foot (944 mm).
Holder's hurdle prowess obviously inspired other Whanganui athletes with Tom Craig (related to Gordon Craig husband of councillor Helen Craig) who won the 120 yard hurdle title in 1904/1905 season. Arthur Porritt famous for his Olympic bronze in the 100m in Paris immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire ran in many hurdle races including a silver medal at the Summer World Student Championships in 1924.
AJ Darby was next Whanganui athlete to win a New Zealand hurdle title over 120 yards in the 1930/1931 championships.
Pat Montague won the first of three successive New Zealand titles and was Whanganui's first of many women winners of school or national hurdle titles continuing to the present day.
Fiona Hogg won gold at New Zealand Schools in 1987 with an impressive 14.15 seconds. Hogg was followed three years later in 1990 by Janiene Ashbridge who took the Schools title in 1990 over 100m hurdles (14.87) and backed this up in 1991 with a New Zealand under-18 title. Her career included three senior women's titles and is 14th in the New Zealand all-time (13.87) and a wind assisted best in Australia of 13.64.
The next female winner was sprinter Philippa Symes who won a North Island 80m Intermediate title in 2007 repeated in 2008 with a record and a New Zealand under-18 title over 100m hurdles in 2009. Symes was an outstanding sprinter with successes including a big win at the Pacific Schools Games in Canberra where she also won a hurdle medal. Symes tops our all-time school age rankings with a 14.00 performance and a wind assisted 13.97 effort.
Holder was the first one-lap male champion in an event that has proved highly successful for Whanganui athletes in recent decades. Michael French was the first Whanganui Collegiate individual title winner in 1976 with his win in 400m hurdles (his son Cameron is the current New Zealand senior champion). He was followed at Schools by a group of WCS athletes with Allan Mountfort winning both the Schools and New Zealand title in 1979, John Keppell won the Schools in 1987 and Peter Swinburn an under-18 title (300m hurdles) in 1989.
Future decathlete Max Attwell took the schools 300m hurdle title in 2014. Whanganui High School athlete Nat Kirk won the Junior Schools title in 2019 and with almost two years left at school could add to this list. This is supported by a whole raft of podium places including this year.
Other hurdle winners at Schools and national level include Scott Newman in 1987 and 1990 backed up with multiple jumps medals and a bronze later in hurdles as a senior athlete. There is a much longer and impressive list of other podium places over many years.
Maggie Jones follows a long list of successful Whanganui athletes and has plenty of time to challenge Symes' school and Ashbridge's club best performances. She is fortunate to have this history to look back to and belong to a club that runs regular hurdle races and can share this challenge with a large group of hurdlers.