Being favourite for the first time at a major championship carries with it an additional pressure. Maggie Jones travelled to the North Island Secondary Schools event with that pressure and emphatically delivered in the rain in Hamilton.
On a day of heavy rain, Jones ran smoothly in the morning to qualify fastest in the 100 metre hurdles (14.89). She moved up a notch to win the afternoon final, coming in just a smidgeon outside her personal best in 14.59 to win by almost a second. Jones's win in the 300 metres was even more emphatic - her winning margin was 2.73 seconds, with a personal best 43.72.
Whanganui fully justified applying for a fourth competitor (three is the maximum and a case can only be made when all have reached proven national standard). Again the athletes delivered, with Jones's Whanganui High School teammates Casie Glentworth in second and Charlotte Baker third with Paige Cromarty (Girls College) fourth. All set personal bests.
Nat Kirk finished second in the senior boys 110-metre hurdles and was unfortunate to fall in his stronger event, the 300-metre hurdles. Kirk was well placed entering the home straight but had to settle for fourth after the fall.
Whanganui again featured with Flynn Johnston of Kirk's High School Flynn Johnson finishing second to add to his silver in the 400-metre hurdles at the Athletics New Zealand Championships a fortnight earlier. Daniel Taylor (Whanganui Collegiate) was sixth in the same final in a personal best time. Later in the day Kirk ran a superb anchor leg in the 4 x 400 relay, with a personal best one-lap split almost bringing his team of Flynn Johnston, Jonty Tripe and Daniel Taylor into a podium place.
The 4 x 100 team (Maggie Jones, Casie Glentworth, Paris Munro and Charlotte Baker) excelled as a Whanganui High School team against larger provincial selections finished third, a feat repeated by the Whanganui Senior Girls team (Charlotte Baker, Maggie Jones, Casie Glentworth and Paige Cromarty replacing the sick Bella Willis.)
Jacky Dai again demonstrated what an excellent competitor he is by snatching third in the Senior Triple Jump, missing second by only four centimetres (12.86 metres) after an excellent series of jumps. His run-up speed and good take off on the final jump looked be enough to take a higher place on the podium, only to see the red flag raised for a marginal foul. Earlier in the day Dai finished fifth in the long jump, with a 6.18-metre effort leaving him only four centimetres shy of third place.
A fortnight previously Lucas Martin won the Athletics New Zealand under 20 10,000-metre walk title with his close rival Daniel du Toit being disqualified towards the half way stage of that race when Martin was slightly ahead. Martin again had to settle for second to du Toit as at the New Zealand Schools in December. It has been a long season for both and both national class walkers and they had to settle for times considerably short of their bests.
Middle distance runner Daniel Sinclair, 15, took his first podium finish in major competition when he finished third in the Intermediate Boys 3,000 metres. He took four seconds off his best but will have to wait for his first sub nine-minute over the distance. He could not have come much closer with his 9:00.02 effort, a clear early target next season. Sinclair also finished sixth in the 1,500 metres where the first three runners all were inside the existing record. Sinclair was three seconds inside his own excellent best (4:07.39). His Whanganui Collegiate teammate Louise Brabyn came so close to a place, finishing fourth in the Intermediate Girls 1,500 metres with a nine second personal best (4:47.44)
As I said last week the North Island Championships have often revealed new faces and the start to many exciting futures in the sport. Samuel Hermann fits that category perfectly, finishing third in the Junior 300 metres when he ran more than a second faster than at Whanganui Schools in March, recording an excellent time of 39.61.
Hermann also ran in an inexperienced Whanganui Collegiate 4 x 100 Junior team running for Whanganui (Israel Calkin, Filipe Bayley, and Dominic Bingle), finishing fourth, only tenths of a second from third place running against regional combinations.
Lucy Monckton won the Senior Girls Steeplechase with Franca Morrah taking third in the under-16s in a combined grade race. Again, the small field perhaps reflects the demanding nature of the event. Mason Pye returned with a first in the Para Long Jump and second in the Para 100 metres, with two meritorious performances - a deserved reward for a dedicated athlete.
A second review of other Whanganui performances will be published next week.