Above: Joseph Millar finishing just behind sprint legend Usain Bolt over 150m at the final Nitro Series event in Melbourne. Photo by Scott Barbour / Getty Images.
It was a tough night of competition for the New Zealand Nitro Series team in Melbourne on Saturday. It was a mixture of gutsy performances and blood spilt, literally, as the team battled in the final Nitro meeting.
Ultimately the teams placing, was irrelevant to the experience the athletes gained and the effort that was put in.
Joseph Millar was the Athlete of the series from a Kiwi viewpoint. While unable to repeat his earlier series triumphs in the 60m and 150m, it took one current and one former World Record holders plus the self inflicted spike marks on his ankle to defeat him.
Asafa Powell in the 60m and Usain Bolt in the 150m had to work harder than they would have envisaged to defeat Millar. He also played a key role with his leg of the mixed 4 x 100m. Receiving the baton in third place, in a perfect change with Zoe Hobbs, he flew down the back straight to hand over to Hamish Gill in second. Gill’s strong bend run was tempered by a snug exchange to Kelsey Berryman who only surrendered the second place late to Australia but well ahead of England, China and Japan.
Previous to the relay Zoe Hobbs ran an excellent bend to set up a close 4th place in a very tight 150m and Gill with 7.19m, was fourth equal in the Long Jump.
Berryman was a battered and bloodied athlete by the end of the evening, having severely spiked her hand while landing in the Long Jump, in addition to straining her left quadricep. Despite this, her 6.24m jump, gave her the runner-up spot in the contest and her second best ever jump behind her PB effort in Thursday’s meeting. Her Bonus target was an agonizingly close 6.25m.
She had started the meeting brightly, with a personal best 60m, only 0.01 behind Rochelle Coster’s NZ Best and securing a second place behind US Rio Olympic 100m runner Jenna Prandini.
The vagaries of the ‘Power Play’ system again worked against the team. The Para races, which had proved so successful in the first two meetings, were the assigned ‘PP’ events this time around. Unfortunately the re-handicapping of the athletes did the NZ team no favours and the fifth and fourth placing of Will O’Neill and Anna Grimaldi respectively, meant the double points haul was below expectation. This did not reflect badly on either athlete who still produced outstanding runs on the night.
In terms of pure athletics the best performance of the meet fell to Tori Peeters who was able to extend her own NZ record to 55.73m for a share of fourth place. Among her scalps was Australian Kathryn Mitchell who placed sixth at the Rio Olympics.
Another workhorse for the team was Kathryn Camp whose events over the series ranged from 300m up to 600m. Her fighting 600m leg in the mixed Medley relay following on from a very good 200m leg by Olivia Eaton and 400m by Michael Cochrane gave Ben Musson the position to bring the team home in fourth place in a very competitive race.
While unsuccessful from a points scoring point of view, the Hurdles Relay was a novel event for Mackenzie Keenan and Jack Henry to take part in. The women’s leg over 100m ran down the outside 3 lanes and the Men’s leg over 110m took to the inside 3 lanes. Unlike normal relays, the athletes did not have to carry a baton and the exchange occurred, triggered by the incoming athletes crossing to line and signaled to the outgoing athlete by Team Coach and former NZ 110m hurdles record-holder, James Mortimer.
The team was ably lead by Captain Matt Wyatt. Injured in the 60m on Thursday while laboring to the line to secure points for the team, Wyatt rallied his troops admirably over the series and engendered in them a team spirit not usually part of the individually focused sport of athletics.
The innovations introduced in the Nitro Series may not have all worked but the interest and crowd enthusiasm in the elimination Mile and 3 minute relay was not predicted pre-series.
The ‘Bolt effect’ was palpable throughout and the experience for the athletes reflected this.
The New Zealand team is guaranteed involvement for the next two years but the positive effect on the athletes who participated in 2017 version will be seen in the rest of the season albeit in front of a few less spectators.