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NZ National Cross Country Champs Preview

The 2017 NZ Cross Country Championships return to the Auckland Domain at the end of July. This will be the third opportunity for NZ’s master runners to race on this course. The first was the 2016 NZXC Champs, while the second was the 2017 World Masters Games. Ironically, the NZ Champs offered greater depth of quality for most age groups than the Games. This can be put down to two causes: one was the Games splitting their fields by offering a 6km and a 8km option, effectively doubling the size of the podium; the other was the timing of the Games placed it only one month after the 2017 Masters World Champs in Korea. And before that the 2016 Masters World Champs in October were just across the ditch in Australia. Most of the top masters runners prioritised the World Champs and were unwilling to travel again so soon for the Games. Another factor is the Games promotes itself more towards participation than competition, drawing out a greater number of recreational runners. I notice a number of masters runners entered in this year’s NZXC who were not registered with ANZ last year; perhaps we are benefiting from the Games reviving an interest in masters running locally.

Reading through the list of entries this year, the first thing that occurs is that three of our stronger masters runners have opted to run out of grade; M40 Steve Rees-Jones, M35 Greg Darbyshire and M35 Jonathan McKee are running with the seniors. So who is running in the masters grades and who can we expect to be challenging for the medals….

The W35 crown is up for grabs now that last year’s first two, Mel Aitken and Johanna Buick, have turned 40. Shannon Leigh-Litt and Katrin Gottschalk, who finished 4W35 and 5W35 in 2016, will be looking to take advantage of the vacated spots. They will face stiff competition from Taranaki’s Kirstin Foley, who recently claimed silver at the NIXC, and Fiona Love, who won the W35 grade in the mud at the Auckland XC Champs. In addition, Tasman’s Kerry Semmens will be looking to convert strength to speed after her gold at the NZ Mountain Running Champs and bronze at the Grand Traverse earlier this year.

With Mel Aitken and Johanna Buick, the first two 2016 W35 placers, having moved up an age-grade, the W40 contest looks to be a great race. Auckland’s Anna McRae won the W40s last year, a few seconds ahead of Paula Canning. Together with Wellington’s Deborah Platts-Fowler, expect to see a fierce race between the five.  North Island medallists Renae Creser and Vicki Rees-Jones won’t be too far behind but are unlikely to feature in the medals unless the front five run so hard between themselves that people start blowing. Another wildcard is Wellington’s Lindsay Barwick, though Lindsay is less adept on mud so will need a firm course.

In stark contrast to the depth in the W40s, the W45 grade is looking woefully thin with none of the previous medallists lining up. Only four runners makes this the weakest grade of all and only one will miss the podium. On paper it looks like a straightforward race to call. South Island champion Tracy Croft should win with a comfortable margin ahead of North Island champion Michelle Van Looy. Expect to see a gap of another couple of minutes for Karyn Mccready to finish in third place with at least as much again back to Namiko Kelly.

The W50 grade winner looks to be a foregone conclusion, with Sally Gibbs expected to continue her domination. Sally is likely to be the first masters woman overall. In the absence of the 2016 silver medallist and with the 2016 bronze placer now in the 55s, last year’s fourth finisher, Robyn Perkins, may fancy her chances of moving up to the podium, along with Sue Parcell. There are a number of possible chasers – Sian Cass, Corinne Smith, Di Matthews, Sarah Poland and possibly Patricia Hayden-Payne will all be looking for an opportunity to strike.

Having escaped Sally Gibbs for one year, Bridget Ray will no doubt be looking for an opportunity to take gold in the W55s and should do so without being put under significant pressure. Second and third is likely to be an all-South Island affair between Nelson’s Debra Lautenslager and Invercargill’s Angela Ryan. Angela won gold at the Southland Champs while Debra ran well at the Tasman Champs. North Island Champion Maureen Leonard won’t be giving up her 2016 NZXC title easily and Carolyn Smith proved her prowess on the mud by winning the Auckland Champs. Karen Gillum-Green won silver at North Islands, plus the 2016 NZXC silver, so whatever happens there will be pressure on Debra and Angela to prove their worth.

Three of 2016’s medallists are contesting the W60 grade. The line-up is almost exclusively Auckland, which means the Centre Champs probably tell us how this race will turn out. Defending champion Margie Peat showed that she remains the in-form runner after a dominant win at the Auckland Champs and looks assured of victory. Karen Crossan finished third in the W55 grade in 2016 and claimed second in her new grade at the Auckland Champs. While Karen was well behind Margie, she had a commanding lead over third. If Liz Hardley wants to repeat her bronze from 2016, she has her work cut out; new runner Marion MacDonald won their head-to-head at Centre Champs and goes into the race as the clear favourite for the final podium spot.

Joy Baker’s wins in the W65 grade of both the Taranaki XC Champs and the North Island XC Champs suggest she is ready to defend her win of the 2016 NZXC W65 title. However, Margaret Flanagan stormed to a huge win at the Canterbury XC Champs and has to be considered the one to beat. Barbara Scarfe was the first W65 (albeit fifth W60+) in the Auckland Champs and should have enough speed to hold off Judith Bradshaw in the race for the bronze.

The masters women’s teams race looks like a tight one to call between four centres: Auckland, Canterbury, Waikato and Wellington. While there are other teams, no other centre appears to be in the mix.  Canterbury’s Shannon Leigh-Litt vs Wellington’s Michele Van Looy and Lindsay Barwick is probably the decisive sub-race. My pick is that Wellington will win over Canterbury but it could easily go to countback. Sally Gibbs will contribute greatly to the Waikato point score but Karyn Mccready has yet to recapture her form from prior years, coming back as I understand from injury, so Waikato may just miss out on bronze to Auckland. However, the middle placings in the teams race are very tight and all it would take is for one runner to have a great run or a mishap and the placing of the four Centres would be completely rearranged.

In the M35 race, the field is weakened by the 2016 and 2015 winners, Greg Darbyshire and Jonathan McKee, deciding to run the senior race. It will be a close race to fill the resulting void. North Island and Wellington short course Champion Ben Winder is the narrow favourite but he can expect to be closely shadowed by Graeme Buscke and Mat Rogers, who both finished within 40 seconds of him at the NIXC Champs. Local Simon Mace will also be in the pack and is as capable as Graeme or Mat of challenging or even beating Ben. Alasdair Saunders will lead the charge of those with only an outside shout and he can’t be discounted from causing an upset.

The M40s have a good line-up. Three of last year’s top four are contesting the race again this year and Stephen Day has returned to the masters after running in the seniors in 2016. While Dan Nixon looks to be in good form for defending his win from last year, Stephen’s time in the longer senior race was the stronger of the two. In addition, Stephen’s time in winning the Long Course ranks better than Dan’s from the Short Course at Centre Champs.  Dan will be under pressure from his club-mate Dan Clendon, who may well be targeting Stephen rather than settling for a minor medal. It might end up being an all-Wellington podium but there are several candidates for preventing the sweep. Auckland’s Nick Moore and Matt Bailey will be in the hunt. From Canterbury, David Fitch will be joined by Allan Staite, who will be hoping to bounce back from a sub-par South Island XC appearance, and Nathan Jones in an attempt to claim a spot in the podium.

Auckland’s Sasha Daniels is in fine form and the M45s won’t be pleased to see that last year’s bronze medallist in the M40s has moved up a grade. Chris Mardon and Michael Causer, the Canterbury and Waikato M45 Centre winners, can be expected to test Sasha but if it comes down to a finishing sprint, expect the Auckland champion to prevail. Tony Broadhead, Gavin Butler and Scott Whitley will play supporting roles but they’re up against it to break in to the top three.

The M35-49 teams situation looks to be far more straightforward than for the women. There only appears to be four Centres with teams. While Simon Mace, Sasha Daniels and Nick Moore should score good points for Auckland, Wellington have Stephen Day, Dan Nixon and Dan Clendon who will be just as strong. For the decisive performance Wellington can look to Ben Winder to provide better points than Matt Bailey and secure the team title. Auckland should still be comfortably ahead of Canterbury, with Waikato the fourth placed team that misses the medals.

In the M50s, there appears to be a four-way chase for the podium between Wellington’s Peter Stevens and Michael Wray and Auckland’s Blair Cossey and Ken Walker. Peter is the pick of the bunch, having maintained a period of great form during 2017 and has finished one place ahead of Michael in every race in Wellington this season. Blair ran well last year, suggesting he will be the main one to challenge Peter. However, he only appears to have made one appearance this year and did not run the Auckland Champs. Ken has returned from a period of absence to claim the Auckland M50 title and is a definite contender. Malcolm Cornelius could easily be involved at the front end too. He has branched out from “only” showing good middle distance speed on track and is earning rewards for his improved cross country this year, as evidenced by winning the South Island and Canterbury titles.

The M55 field is somewhat smaller but contains some useful talent. Alastair Prangnell will be the favourite and his recent win at the Auckland Champs is a good sign he’s over his injury troubles. Waikato’s Bruce Edwards will keep Alastair honest and will have every reason to challenge for the win. Behind these two, Anthony Rogal is the favourite to complete the podium but he won’t find it easy, with both Tony Warren and Phil Sadgrove capable of upsetting the form book.

Wellington’s Tony Price will be confident of adding the NZ title to the North Island prize he collected last month. Robin Grant is the wildcard that could come closest to pipping Tony, with Mark Trotman also in the running. Gavin Smith finished well behind Tony at North Islands yet could pick up a silver or bronze. The only other contender is Greg Banks but his recent Centre Champs performance suggests he’s not in the same shape as 2016 when he finished over a minute ahead of Gavin.

It looks like there are only three Centres with teams in the M50+ section. Canterbury don’t have the depth to win. Auckland and Wellington will be very close. I pick Wellington to win by a narrow margin but, as with the masters women, it would only take one standout performance or off-day to switch that around and give the hosts the win.

The M65 race should be interesting. Trevor Ogilvie is back from injury and won at the North Island XC. Trevor is in his last year in the M65 grade and he will face stiff competition from Taranaki M65 champion Murray Laird, who is in his first year in the grade. The rest of the field will be chasing for bronze. In this Graeme Adams and Des Phillips will be hoping to come through but I expect John Kent to emerge for the final podium spot.

The M70 race this year consists of four runners. Michael Bond is clearly favoured to defend the title he won last year, probably without coming under significant pressure. Last year’s Alan Jones would be expected to claim second but a sub-par North Island XC performance from last year’s silver medallist instead suggests that Murray Clarkson will take that honour this year. Alan might be more concerned with trying to stay ahead of Kenneth Hare.

There are no M75s this year and with only one M80, Auckland’s Garth Barfoot will need to look to younger men for competition on the day. Garth won’t beat many but if his 5000m time at the Games was any guide, there’s at least one M65 he should beat.

What is Age-Grading?

World Masters Athletics have developed statistical tables of factors that translate performances to a percentage score. These tables use the aged world records to present timed age standards as a benchmark, which allows you to compare your past and present performances, as well as compare yourself to someone of a different age or gender.. The score represents the ratio of the approximate world-record time for your age and gender divided by your actual time: the higher your percentage, the better your performance.

Age-graded scores have been categorised into these broad achievement levels:

  • 100% = Approximate world record level

  • Over 90% = World class

  • Over 80% = National class

  • Over 70% = Regional class

  • Over 60% = Local class

Calculator: http://www.howardgrubb.co.uk/athletics/wmalookup15.html


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Last Updated 22 August 2017