Above: Eliza McCartney at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Photo by Getty Images.
Olympic medallists Eliza McCartney and Tom Walsh will hold most of the interest for Kiwi athletics fans at the Auckland Track Challenge at the AUT Millennium Stadium on Auckland’s North Shore on Sunday afternoon but there will be a number of other quality events on the programme.
The two New Zealand stars will front after very good lead-up performances in the International Athletics Series over the last week.
Walsh set a New Zealand resident record at the Mike Greer Homes Big Shot event in Christchurch last Sunday, while McCartney vaulted superbly at the Vertical Pursuit event in Britomart on Wednesday evening.
Both events drew large, appreciative crowds keen to see the international stars up close on their home turf.
American Morgann Leleux, Canadian Alysha Newman and Kiwi junior sensation Olivia McTaggart, along with McCartney will battle it out once again in the Harcourts Cooper & Co pole vault on Sunday.
Olympic shot put champion Ryan Crouser will be the target for 2016 World Indoor and Diamond League champion Walsh.
The imposing American threw a huge 22.05m to beat the Kiwi champion by 0.59m in Christchurch and Walsh will be keen to get closer or even beat Crouser in their second contest of the series. Jacko Gill will also be keen to get close to his recent best of 21.01 at the track where he has set World Junior records.
There’s plenty of interest in the supporting events at the Track Challenge, with the women’s 800m a key event.
New Zealand champion Angie Petty will go in as warm favourite over her favoured distance after finishing strongly in the Fast K 1000m in Christchurch but will have a battle on her hands from another Kiwi. Katherine Camp beat Petty over 800m in January at the Capital Classic and will be looking to get another victory over the 2015 World Universities Champion again.
Australians Heidi See, winner of the Christchurch 1000m race and Georgia Wassall will also challenge the Kiwis. Melbourne based New Zealander Ellen Schaef, fresh from representing New Zealand, alongside Camp in the Nitro Athletics Series in Melbourne could surprise after some excellent recent races.
The men’s 800m looks to be an Australian benefit with Aussie champion Luke Matthews, Jordan Williamsz, Joshua Ralph and Mason Cohen all boasting personal bests under 1:48.00, significantly faster than any of the Kiwis entered. The race will be missing six times New Zealand Champion Melbourne based Brad Mathas who recently beat a good field in Canberra.
Joseph Millar, straight from his starring role in the Nitro Series, will start the 200m as hot favourite ahead of some classy junior talent and Cameron French is likely to show a clean pair of heels to the 400m field.
Paralympic double gold medallist Liam Malone was to start in the 400m but has been forced to withdraw through injury.
Australians look likely to dominate the men’s 5000m, with a classy quartet including three Rio Olympians in Dave McNeill, Brett Robinson and Sam McEntee, all with best times faster than 13:21.00.
Joining them will be two Kiwi novices over 5000m. Hamish Carson represented New Zealand in Rio in the 1500 and Eric Speakman, New Zealand’s latest sub four minute miler, step up in distance and should both secure new personal bests in the race. Olympic 1500m medallist Nick Willis will be the pacemaker for the event.
Zoe Hobbs, with a personal best 100m time of 11.53 at last year’s World U20 championships will be pushed by current New Zealand 100m champion Rochelle Coster in the women’s sprint race.
Two mile races will be on the programme as well.
The Peoples Mile is an opportunity for anyone to try their hand at running a mile and 50 people have registered, many of them people who have been training using Nick Willis’ Miler Method training system.
The other mile race will be the John Walker Mile U20 annual race with a very competitive field lining up.
The Auckland Track Challenge
AUT Millennium Stadium, 17 Antares Pl, Rosedale, Auckland
Start’s 2.30pm Internation programme starts 3:35pm
Auckland Track Challenge website