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Whanganui athletes heading to 50th New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships

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Whanganui Collegiate athlete Juliet McKinlay has entered several jump events at the National Secondary Schools Championships.

Three Whanganui secondary schools and Nga Tawa Diocesan School from Marton will be joining 1098 students from 201 Schools at the 50th New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships at Ngā Puna Wai Christchurch on the weekend.

A group from Fiji and Cook Islands will add international flavour to the championships. Whanganui Collegiate School travel with 20, Nga Tawa have 19 entered, Whanganui High School have 10, and Grace Fannin is the sole Whanganui Girls’ College entrant.

It has been 51 years since 30 Whanganui Collegiate students travelled to the championships. The group travelled to Christchurch by train from Aramoho and ferry from Wellington to Lyttleton — neither the train nor the Lyttleton ferry are travel options today.

There was considerable interest in that first trip because not only was it the first schools championships, but it was to be held on the new Queen Elizabeth Stadium as a trial for both the facility and the organisers for the 1974 Commonwealth Games seven weeks later.

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I am unsure whether any other Whanganui schools attended because the archived results record only leading performances and I couldn’t find any performances other than Whanganui Collegiate School.

Russell Mohi finishing third in the pole vault with his teammate Alexander Williamson fifth. Simon Collins was fifth in the 110m hurdles and the 4×400 team of David Clarke, David Glasson, Jonathan Fairclough and Gil Barnitt won bronze.

It was my first major trip with a team and I have been fortunate to attend all subsequent championships.

The Covid-19 cancellation of the 2021 championships means this year’s is the 50th and returns to the original host city.

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Covid had a major effect on all sports, and athletics was no exception.

The 201 schools represented is impressive and considering the high cost of travel, the rise in the cost of living and the many events now available for our young sportsmen and women (not around half a century ago) is a testament to the strength of both the championship and the sport.

Two of the athletes from Whanganui were on the podium last year as individuals and three others were members of medal-winning relay teams.

Louise Brabyn (Whanganui Collegiate) is defending her 2000m steeplechase title won in Inglewood last year.

Brabyn has had a difficult year missing the Athletics New Zealand Championships due to Covid.

She had recovered sufficiently to win the North Island Steeplechase and travelled to Brisbane as a member of the New Zealand Secondary Schools under-18 team where she managed third place at the Australian championships.

Brabyn suffered another setback in winter and it has been a tough battle to regain her form. Recent performances have brought her back closer to her best. Brabyn starts in the 3000m and 2000m steeplechase.

Juliet McKinlay (Whanganui Collegiate School) took silver as a Year 9 in Inglewood, snatching the triple jump medal on a countback with her final jump.

At the inaugural under-16 New Zealand championships in March, she won a collector’s set of medals — gold in triple jump, silver in long jump and bronze in 80m hurdles.

McKinlay has been in excellent form, ready to face the strong challenges from quality fields in Christchurch. McKinlay is entered in long and triple jump and 300m and 80m hurdles.

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McKinlay will have Whanganui company in the jump events with Annabelle Brown, Lulu Dufty and Isla Jones from Whanganui High School. All have shown real jumping promise, notably Dufty who has had a series of 10m triple jumps a distance above McKinlay’s best before last year’s championships.

Thomas Gowan, who was a member of Whanganui High School’s mixed 4×400 silver medal team, continues to show progress as a one-lap runner and looks set for further progress.

Whanganui High School with sprinters such as Gowan, Damian Hodgson, Zac Papworth and Vincent Walters should feature in relays. Grace Fannin (Girls’ College) makes a championship debut and this promising young athlete will gain invaluable experience from her trip south.

Daniel Sinclair will feel the pressure of being the under-20 1500m champion. He has entered only the 1500m, an event that has attracted a highly-quality field.

Sinclair was an unknown at the New Zealand championships in March where he set a 5-second personal best. He no longer has that anonymity and joins a group with athletes who have recorded faster times.

While our younger athletes head south, we should acknowledge Sally Gibbs, who last weekend at the North Island Masters won the 800m, 1500m, 3000m and 5000m. All were 60-64 North Island records, and Francie Bayler set a North Island record in the 80-84 triple jump.

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