NISS's Track & Field Champs at Cooks

DOUBLE DUTY: Whanganui High School runner Travis Bayler will attempt the 400 metre/800 metre double at the North Island Secondary Schools Track and Field Champs at Cooks Gardens this weekend.

Nearly 800 athletes from all 11 North Island regions will be in Whanganui at the weekend for the season-ending North Island Secondary Schools Track and Field Championship at Cooks Gardens.

The host Whanganui fields the third largest team of 80 athletes, which is also the largest Whanganui has ever fielded.

The event, which rotates around the regions, was last held here in 2001 although in the intervening period we have twice hosted the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships, an Athletics New Zealand Championships and two New Zealand Combined events Championships. A clear indication of the importance nationally of the Cooks Gardens venue.

There are strong entries, especially in the Intermediate grade (under 16) with large fields in sprints and throws. Genna Maples and Tayla Brunger, who finished first and third respectively at last month's New Zealand Championships in the under 18 200 metres, face particularly tough qualifying on Sunday.

There are four heats for the girls and in the format without semi-finals only the winner is guaranteed a place in the final two hours later. They will be joined by the next four fastest over the four heats.

Brunger will run in the 400 metres on the Saturday but will not face a qualifying round as the experiment of running timed finals adopted in Taranaki last year will be repeated. Brunger will certainly run in the top heat and should expect strong local competition from team mate Emma Osborne who won the New Zealand Schools 400 metre title in December. Osborne also starts in the 800 metres on the same day.

Travis Bayler is another 400 metre runner who is attempting the 400 metre/800 metre double in the Senior Boys. The timed finals in the 400 metres does make this double more likely than in the past when athletes faced heats in both events.

The 800 metres is right at the start of the day, the 400 metres at 1.05pm with the 800 metres finals two hours 20 minutes later. The timing makes doubling possible.
Bayler finished a highly creditable fourth over the one lap at the New Zealand Championships in early March in the under 18 grade and has run faster since and looks set for a breakthrough at the weekend.

He will also run in a strong Whanganui 4x400 relay team at lunch time on Sunday in the final event of the exciting day and a half programme.

The post Easter date and the start of winter sport in some areas has seen some lower entries in some senior events, notably in the senior girls division.

The middle distance fields in some senior events have also been reduced as the New Zealand Schools Cross Country Team runs in Paris this week which means Whanganui will be without the in -form Liam Back and neighbouring Taranaki will be without Hannah O'Connor. As in all such cases this could open the door for other athletes.

The Cross Country team's absence has less influence in the younger grades. Rebecca Baker who won the New Zealand School's 1500 metres runs over 3000 metres on Saturday and 1500 metres the next day and will be in the under 16 4x400 metres relay (a new event this year) at the end of the day.

In the 3000 metres she will be joined by the very promising Ashleigh Alabaster who also double with a Steeplechase on Sunday. Ana Brabyn, who is still in the under 14 grade, impressed recently over 800 metres and this promising athlete who at 13 was 5th in the under 16 grade at New Zealand Schools looks set for further improvement.

It is good to see Whanganui well represented in hurdle events with three starters in the junior grade headed by Whanganui winner Paris Munro who also joins Isabel Brabyn in the inaugural under 16 300 metre hurdles. Her brother Connor starts in the senior boy's 300 metre hurdles where he will be joined by Jonathan Maples and Joseph Sinclair with Sophie Redmayne highly ranked in the senior girls 300 metre hurdles.

There has been a pleasing response to our plea for helpers and officials with an especially good response from officials from last year's hosts Taranaki. Even with 57 now on the officials list we still have gaps for late volunteers. A clear illustration of the labour intensity and logistics of a major athletic meeting.

The meeting starts at 9am on Saturday with a 5.30pm end and a third session on Sunday ending at 1.30pm.

By Alec McNab
Wanganui Chronicle 5/4/18