Matt Baxter, who has gone unbeaten this cross country season, faces his toughest challenge when he attempts to lift the senior cross country crown at Halswell Quarry in Christchurch on Saturday.
Baxter will be looking for the perfect 21st birthday present at the end of the 12km slog and he will also be wanting to keep his season’s record intact. Coached by four times world cross country representative Kerry Rodger, Baxter turns 21 on 6 August and over the past six years he has built up an impressive cross country running record. After finishing second at the New Zealand secondary schools championships in 2010 and 2011 he took the senior boys title in 2012. At the national championships he won the 2010 youth title and the junior title in the next two years.
Baxter has won everything this season, including the North Island title and the Auckland title in his first taste of the 12km distance.
After his convincing win over Malcolm Hicks in the Auckland championships Baxter sees his main challenges coming from defending champion Callan Moody and 2013 champion Malcolm Hicks.
“Callan will be right amongst it as well as all these guys from Auckland we’ve all got that fierce competition going so I think nationals is going to be an interesting one there’s going to be a good front bunch going,” said Baxter.
Amongst that front bunch should also be Wellington champion Tim Hodge, Canterbury champion Oska Inkster-Baynes, Tasman champion Craig Lautenslager, last year’s junior champion Joshua Baan of Otago and former national mountain running champion Jono Jackson from Auckland.
Lucy van Dalen London Olympic Games 1500m semi-finalist and 13th in the 5000m at last year’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games mightn’t have set foot over country in New Zealand for some time till fronting and winning the Auckland title, but she showed all the hall marks to take out the women’s title. Van Dalen is using the cross country to get her strength back building up to the track season.
“I’m getting used to the 8km distance for cross country here and the nationals should be good,” she said after her Auckland win.
Nicole Mitchell the Wellington champion should give van Dalen plenty of competition along with Rachel Kingsford, Penny Peskett and the 2013 junior champion Margot Gibson.
Marcus Karamanolis and Conal Wilson should battle out the junior men’s 8km. Karamanolis was impressive winning the North Island title two weeks before taking out the Wellington championship. Wilson carried on a family tradition winning the New Zealand secondary schools senior title and was equally convincing in the Auckland championship. Also in the hunt will be Harry Ewing of Waikato Bay of Plenty, last year’s youth champion Cameron Avery and fellow Cantabrian Matthew Prest and Jack Beaumont of Southland.
Rosa Flanagan back home after finishing fifth in the 3000m steeplechase at the World University Games and before going on to the World Athletic Championships in Beijing should have the junior women’s 6km to herself. Flanagan was the 2012 national youth champion, the 2014 junior champion and twice New Zealand secondary schools champion. The 2013 schools title was on her home course at Halswell. Gabrielle Gray, Anneke Grogan, Arianna Lord and Grace Wood should be in the race for the minor medals.
Isaiah Priddey, the New Zealand secondary schools junior champion, should hard to peg back in the youth men’s 6km. But giving it a good go will be North Island winner Christian Conder, James Uhlenberg, Christopher Dryden and Oliver Chignell.
Kelsey Forman fresh from competing at the World Youth Championships in Columbia has every chance of winning the youth women 4km from defending champion Ari Graham, Amelia Persson, Tessa Hunt and Samantha Burke.
The leading under 15 runners are Noah Macdermid in the boys and Hannah O’Connor in the girls while in the under 13 Zane Powell and Bex Jenkins are the leading contenders.
In the masters Ben Winder of Wellington is expected to make a bold showing while line honours in the master women should be between Renae Creser and Shireen Crumpton. Gabrielle O’Rourke has entered in both the master and senior women’s races.
Athletics New Zealand Correspondent