Above: Jim Blair, Jason Cameron and Raylene Bates.
With the Opening Ceremony of the 2017 World Masters Games on Friday set to herald the start of ten days of exhilarating action in Auckland we pick out three competing athletes who are all set to participate in the quadrennial multi-sport festival.
With an athletics association spanning almost 80 years few athletes at the forthcoming World Masters Games can match the vast experience of Jim Blair.
First taking up the sport aged six, Jim has maintained his long-standing connection to the sport in a range of roles from coaching and officiating and for more than 45 years as a competing masters’ athlete.
A former 1.86m high jumper and 15.4 120yrd hurdler, Jim, now aged 85, was first encouraged to first give masters athletics (then known as veterans athletics) a crack in the early 1970s.
“I was playing cricket at the time in Christchurch when a guy called Arthur Grayburn (a two-time former New Zealand javelin champion), asked me what I was doing on Sunday because there was a veterans athletics meet at English Park.”
Jim took up the opportunity has not looked back since, featuring as a regular on the New Zealand masters circuit and later serving on the International Association of Athletics Federations Masters Committee as well as becoming a leading technical official.
Down the years the great-grandfather from Silverstream in Upper Hutt has won titles and set records at Wellington, North Island and New Zealand Championships as well as on the international stage.
At last month’s World Masters Indoor Championships in South Korea he won no less than seven medals including golds in javelin, high jump and triple jump and now Jim, who still coaches at Upper Hutt AC and trains a couple of times a week, is setting his sights on the World Masters Games.
Describing the quadrennial competition as “a great festival of sport” the former President of Athletics New Zealand is entered in the 85-89 age group in the high jump, triple jump, javelin, discus, shot and throws pentathlon, but he is reluctant to talk up his chances.
“Of course the thing about getting older and moving into a new age group is the opposition is either retired, injured or no longer around,” says Jim, who was also a long-time instructor of Athletics NZ’s Run Jump Throw programme. “To be honest, I have no great ambitions. I injured a knee at the World Indoor Championships and I’m having treatment on it, so at this stage I’m just happy to compete and perform to a reasonable level.”
Running has given former New Zealand World Cross Country representative and race director Jason Cameron “a lifetime of experiences” and now the 45-year-old hopes the World Masters Games can add another exciting chapter to his running odyssey.
Jason first started running as a five-year-old with the Hamilton Harriers (now the Hamilton City Hawks) and was instantly hooked. A natural endurance athlete he went on to carve out an accomplished career in the sport, finishing one place behind his good mate and fellow Kiwi Robbie Johnston to place 68th at the 1996 World Cross Country Championships in Cape Town and posting a handy 1500m PB of 3:42 the following year.
Yet after injuries to the Achilles and calf struck in his late 20s, he took more than ten years out of the sport until deciding to re-engage once again in his early 40s.
“It was hard coming back and it took me a couple of years to get some decent fitness and sort out some long-lasting injuries,” he explains. “Once I lost some weight and got consistency back into training and I was able to complete my workouts my competitive fires started burning again.”
Last year he earned reward on the international masters scene by winning bronze in the 8km Cross Country event at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth, Australia then last month Jason struck gold in the cross country at the World Masters Indoor Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea and also grabbed 3000m bronze.
Now the Rotorua-based dad-of-two is looking to make his mark on the World Masters Games in Auckland, where he is entered in the 800m, 1500m, 5000m and 6km Cross Country events.
“With the event being in New Zealand, I’m really looking forward to it,” says Jason, who trains seven times a week through a combination of runs and strength and mobility work. “When I mapped out my summer, World Masters Games were well placed within three weeks of the World Masters Indoors in Daegu and it’s also a new competition I’ve never done before.”
“My aim is to run better than I did in Korea last month and lift my performance in the track events.”
Aged 45 and competing in the 45-49 presents obvious advantages and although Jason admits it “definitely helps” age alone is only part of the story.
“You also see people at the high end of the age groups excelling and winning,” he explains. “In Perth, the athlete Troncon (Argentina) who won the 45-49 Cross was 49 and he also was second in 5000m. When you get to this age half the battle is being healthy which gives you great confidence going into races. It's those finer controllables that can make the difference.”
For Athletics NZ High Performance Para-Athlete Manager Raylene Bates the 2017 World Masters Games is all about catching up with old mates and having fun.
Raylene, a former New Zealand senior women’s hammer champion, says she was encouraged by former javelin thrower Blair Stewart to enter the World Masters Games as a reunion for their old squad.
Since then Blair has dropped out but Raylene is still committed and is looking forward to competing in the shot put, discus, hammer, javelin and weight pentathlon as well as the mountain biking.
“About eight or nine of us from the old squad are going up to Auckland, it will be good laugh,” she says. “Having the event in Auckland is fantastic for the city and New Zealand as a whole. Quite a few of the 2006 Commonwealth Games I was involved with are competing and I know Jane Muir (nee Jane Arnott) is putting together a 4x400m relay team. It will be a great reunion,” adds the 2006 Team Leader.
In preparation for the World Masters Games, Raylene competed at last year’s World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth, where she won silver medals in the weight pentathlon and discus and bronze in the shot put.
Raylene, 51, admits she carried out “a little bit” of training for the Perth event but since then her priority has been on her athletes performing during the domestic season so has had no time to prepare for World Masters Games.
With this in mind the Dunedin-based masters thrower admits she has no “expectations” for Auckland.
“I just want to catch up some old friends and faces and have some fun,” she adds.