The International Track Meet for 2014 was headlined by double Olympic champion Valerie Adams, and the world’s best shotputter didn’t disappoint in her first competition since September, with the best distance in the world so far this year.
The strong performance, with four throws over 20m culminating in a best of 20.19m, was enough to convince her that that she was ready to step back onto the global championship stage at the World Indoor Championships next month, after recovering from ankle and knee surgery last year.
Joining her in Poland for the World Championships will be her closest rival on Saturday, national record holder for the men’s event Tom Walsh. Walsh was disappointed with his performance at his home event, winning the men’s competition comfortably but ceding bragging rights to Adams with a best performance of 19.89m. That he was disappointed with the performance, but still broke his own meet record set last year, demonstrates how far he has progressed in 12 months – however he will take the win and left yesterday for World Indoors ready for his first senior representative appearance in the black singlet.
The two New Zealand 3000m championship races were both taken by Aussie visitors with impressive front running displays, and both national titles were taken by gutsy efforts from locals prepared to chase their illustrious opponents. Rosa Flanagan led for several laps after the early pace was controlled by Dutch athlete Lesley van Miert, before Australian Olympian Eloise Wellings threw down the gauntlet. Flanagan was able to hang on well for an excellent second placing from the fast finishing Nikki Hamblin, taking her first senior national title at just 17 years of age.
Meanwhile in the men’s championship race, another Australian Olympian, Ben St Lawrence, was paced through the first few laps by compatriot Tristan Garrett before striking out on his own, with only local athlete Dan Balchin prepared to follow the searing pace set by the Oceania record holder for 10,000m. Balchin faded to third behind Irishman Mark Hanrahan but was still good enough to take the national title ahead of New Brighton Olympic clubmate Callan Moody, and Wellington’s Hamish Carson. St Lawrence finished in 8min3.02sec, just over 5sec outside the meet record set by Ryan Gregson at QEII Stadium in 2009.
In the popular new Throws Quadrathlon, Walsh doubled up for a win and new personal best in the discus, narrowly ahead of discus specialist Marshall Hall. Hall did take some consolation however, in coming away from the weekend with a new meet record set in the qualifying rounds on Friday night at Rawhiti Domain. Walsh also took the overall quadrathlon competition from junior hammer throwing sensation Matthew Bloxham.
The women’s quadrathlon was taken by Auckland’s Te Rina Keenan with excellent consistency across all four events, although she could only register third in her specialist discus event behind rising star Tina Hakeai and Australia’s Christie Chamberlain. Hakeai posted her second Commonwealth Games B standard qualifier, which should be enough to book her ticket to Glasgow.
One of the most exciting races of the day came in the women’s 800m, where some powerful front running from local favourite Angie Smit, who took up the lead when the pacemaker stepped off, saw her hold off a strong challenge from Irish 1500m champion Laura Crowe and Commonwealth silver medalist Nikki Hamblin.
Further excitement came in the sprint events, where the 4x1lap relay went down to the wire again – last year the North Island team was caught on the line by their South Island rivals by a margin of 4/100ths of a second, and this year northerners got their revenge by a slightly larger margin but still less than half a second. In the innovative “new” 100m handicap, a throwback to the days of professional matchraces such as Scotland’s Powderhall and Australia’s Stawell Gift event, the blanket finish saw the race awarded to national squad member Cameron French by just 1/100th of a second from Christ’s College schoolboy Elliott Nye on his home track, with Auckland’s Tama Toki another 1/100th behind in third. Earlier, Toki had taken second to national 400m champion Alex Jordan in the 300m event, with 2010 winner Dan O’Shea in third.
For More: NZRun International Track Meet Review