It is hardly surprising that with the iconic Cooks Gardens, the venue that has seen more sub four minute miles than any other New Zealand track, that middle distance running has featured strongly in Whanganui athletic history.
Earlier in the month I featured a long list of athletes from Whanganui who had gained athletic scholarships in the USA almost all of whom were middle distance runners. I missed. Catherine Conder who attended Coastal Carolina University from the list. The day after writing the article middle distance runner Andres Hernandez, who spent his final school year at Whanganui Collegiate in 2019, contacted me informing me he had just won a scholarship to de Salle University in Philadelphia.
Catherine Conder was part of the second Whanganui Schools Team to travel to the Australian Schools Championships in Adelaide in 1989. There was a large group of middle- distance runners in that team including Hamish Smith and Peter Swinburn both New Zealand under 18 Champions that year in 1500m and 2000m Steeplechase respectively, Smith went on to a Scholarship to Colorado. Conder had her brother Robert in the team who followed his running career in New Zealand and represented New Zealand also in the 1989 team was Vaughan Priddey from Marton who after his successful career became a leading coach.
CV (Don Evans) was Whanganui's first national middle-distance Champion winning both the half and 1 mile at the 1929 -1930 Championship, He repeated his Half mile victory the following year and again in 1934- 35.
Kevin Ross had won the New Zealand Junior Half Mile title in 1965-1966 season and then went on to win four senior title with three consecutive half mile titles starting in 1966 -67 with a fourth title over 1500m in 1970 -71. Bev Shingles made it a Whanganui 1500 metre double by winning the women's title that year. Ross also ran in the World Record breaking 4 x 1 mile team.
Brad Mathas was the next Whanganui athlete to win multi titles with eight consecutive 800 metre Senior titles from 2012 the later ones when based in Melbourne. Travel restrictions prevented Mathas attempting to add to the list this year. In other years Mathas was able to return easily to New Zealand whereas athletes in the USA, such as double Olympian Lucy Oliver (nee van Dalen), have been unable to add to the list of Whanganui national champions.
Whanganui athletes have met considerable success in Junior ranks. Lew Boosey, from the same training group as Ross, took the Junior 3- mile title in1964-65 with I R (Rusty) Harris the first Whanganui Junior winner over the half mile in 1940-41. Russell Aldridge won two consecutive Junior 800 metre titles in 1982 and 1983 with Geordie Beamish winning the Junior 1500m in 2015 before heading to Arizona.
Martin Holmes won consecutive 3000m under 18 titles in 1982 and 1983 and was followed on the top of the podium by the aforementioned Hamish Smith and Peter Swinburn. Duncan Ross (2000m Steeplechase) and Liam Back with wins over 1500m, 3000 metres and 2000 metre Steeplechase (2018) and an 800m, 1500m double in 2019 were the other Whanganui national winners.
In the second review of the season following the one on hurdling I turn to middle -distance events where Whanganui athletes have had a much quieter year following five years of high success. Club Captain Travis Bayler finished 7th over 800 metres in the Athletics New Zealand Championships one of only two Whanganui senior athletes in the Manawatu/Whanganui Team. George Lambert was one of two Whanganui medal winners at the Jennian Homes Athletics New Zealand Championships
in Hastings taking a silver medal in the Junior (under 20) 3000metre Steeplechase with teammate Ben Conder in third place. Lambert also finished 5th with a solid effort in the 5000m at the same Championships.
In December at New Zealand Schools Mackenzie Morgan was second in the Senior Girls Road Race with an outstanding run that gained selection for the New Zealand paper team. Unfortunately, injury prevented Morgan from running on the track this year. Morgan is on the road to recovery and could have a major part to play later this year.
The only other medal in a major Championship came from Daniel Sinclair with his third place in the Intermediate Boys 3000metres at the North Island Championships. He and young teammate Louise Brabyn have set a series of personal bests this year and have the ability to follow in the footsteps of illustrious Whanganui past athletes. This is more likely to happen if the depth of middle distance strengthens locally to match the national resurgence in middle distance events.