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NZ Road Champs Preview

The NZ Road Champs return to Christchurch for the first time since 2010. And 2010 didn’t happen. Thanks to the earthquake rendering the course unusable, the event was cancelled on race morning (eventually being held in a cut-down make-shift version in Auckland two months later).

It is a big surprise to see most of the age groups offering such poor fields. Whenever Athletics NZ hold the road or cross country champs outside of one of the main centres, they are criticised. Yet here we are in a main centre and so many of the top runners have not entered. The M40 and M50 age groups seem to be the only grades with depth – those two ages are stacked with talent. Did the masters in the other grades leave Auckland injured after the cross country champs?

Race Walk

The masters walk has only six competitors, all in different age groups, four from Wellington. This means the walking contest is not about position; it is about the challenge of maintaining technique against the eagle eyes of the judge. One of the main points of interest, therefore, is whether Wellington’s Terri Grimmett can avoid being disqualified for a third consecutive year. Time will be a consideration for two of the competitors: expect W70 Jackie Wilson and W75 Daphne Jones to go after an improvement of their own NZ age group records/best performances.

Masters Women

In the absence of Fiona Love, who was dominant in Auckland, Katrin Gottschalk will be aspiring to improve her silver W35 medal from NZ cross country and target gold. Similarly, Kerry Semmens will be hoping to get on the podium after her fourth place finish in Auckland. It’s difficult to look beyond Canterbury’s Natasha Mitchell for the win. She finished fourth overall in the Canterbury Road Champs in a time that suggests Katrin will have to settle for another silver. Kerry should finish with the bronze, leaving Shannon-Leigh Litt and Krissy Tanner scrapping for fourth.

For the W40s, all four competitors ran the NZXC in Auckland. On the basis of that race, you would expect to see Johanna Buick celebrate the absence of Paula Canning by upgrading her silver to gold. It’s not likely to be that simple. Wellington’s Lindsay Barwick is a much stronger road than cross country runner and can be expected to close down that 46 second gap between the two from Auckland. Johanna should still have the edge but the gap is likely to be less than 10 seconds, which is close enough to mean anything could happen on the day. Auckland’s Anna McRae is another one who seems relatively stronger on road but she’s unlikely to challenge at the front. Instead, Anna will need to contest the bronze with Renae Creser.  Renae has the ability to pip both Lindsay and Johanna to gold, particularly over 5km (as opposed to 10km) but only if she runs a more measured race than usual to be able to have something left for the final lap so that her track speed can be used to outkick opponents.

The 2017 absence of the W45s not only continues but gets worse. Tracy Croft has the grade to herself guaranteeing gold unless something prevents her from finishing. That’s a shame, as Tracy has enough quality to win a gold through honest effort. She will have to look to the age groups for a contest and keep the teams race in mind to find motivation.

Sally Gibbs will, as always, win the W50 grade by a large margin. In the absence of anyone capable of finishing within 60, possibly 90, seconds of Sally over 5km she may be tempted to ease off and save her energy for her later race; Sally is also contesting the senior women’s 10km. Maggie Chorley is the clear favourite to finish second to Sally, both overall and in the W50 grade. That leaves bronze. Sarah Poland is not really in contention, while Robyn Perkins will need to reproduce the performance she put in at National Road Champs in 2015 and not the time she recorded in 2016. Robyn missed the Canterbury Road Champs and ran a NZXC time that suggests she is not yet back to that 2015 level. Bridget Deverall ran a strong Waikato Road Champs and may well be over two minutes ahead of Robyn’s fourth.

Only two competitors will contest the W55s. It’s an all-south affair, pitting Canterbury’s Carolyn Forsey against Southland’s Deborah Telfer. I’m picking Deborah for the win.

The W60 grade has four contestants and the finishing order looks reasonably straightforward to pick. Local Bernadette Jago goes into the race as the favourite to win gold ahead of Wellington’s Michele Allison. Third place should go to Sue Meltzer. Liz Hardley will therefore become the one to miss out. If Liz can reproduce her performances from 2015 and 2016, you could see Sue relegated to fourth. However, Sue is running faster now, whereas Liz has gone the other way.

For the W65s, Margaret Flanagan should claim a comfortable victory over her sole competitor, Judith Bradshaw. The only W70 entered is Loris Reed. While Loris is therefore a shoo-in for the age group, our oldest female competitor will not finish last overall; In fact, it would be a surprise if she doesn’t beat at least two of her younger rivals.

The low number of entries is particularly evident in the teams. Only two centres have enough runners to produce a counting team: Auckland and Canterbury. Each has at least one extra, so they should be covered for any DNF. Southland, Waikato and Wellington have runners in the teams race but as they are short of the required four, their role in teams is reduced to acting as spoilers in the points contest between Auckland and Canterbury. There would have to be some serious spoiling as the outcome looks to be as close to a certainty as you can get. Canterbury will win by a huge margin with Chorley, Buick, Croft and Perkins. It’s even possible that Canterbury could have their four counting members across the line before Auckland has its first. The responsibility for avoiding that ignominy will fall to Anna McRae to beat one of Tracy Croft or Robyn Perkins. It won’t make any difference, given Katrin Gottschalk will be Auckland’s second runner behind both Tracy and Robyn.

Masters Men 35-49

None of the M35 medallists from cross country are on the start line. Wellington’s Alasdair Saunders missed out on a medal in Auckland in a finishing straight sprint-off and he will capitalise on the absence of his previous rivals to win gold by at least a minute. Jason Cressingham, Michael Walker and Scott Underhay have little to no chance of finishing on the podium. Both Damian Cook and Kelvin Meade will be a couple of minutes ahead of all three. Damian is a narrow favourite to beat Kelvin but it could go either way and I’d be surprised if they finish more than a handful of seconds apart.

The M40 race is one of the few to have a strong line-up. Waikato’s Steve Rees-Jones is returning to masters competition after holding his own in the seniors last year and also in this year’s cross country champs. Another M40 who has previously continued to race seniors until recently is Wellington’s Stephen Day. On paper this is the headline contest. If the two are both 100%, Rees-Jones would usually be the narrow favourite. However, Steve may not be up to full speed as I understand his preparation has been disrupted by an injury - he’s fully recovered but has he been able to put in the speedwork. And Day just finished third in the Noumea Marathon and may find his legs a little weary to deliver a typical performance. Given this, Wellington’s Dan Nixon could fancy his chances of causing an upset. Dan may be more worried about the threat to a potential bronze, for which he will have competition from regular rival Andrew Wharton and also Auckland’s Simon Mace. It is unlikely that anyone else will feature in the medal chase – even though most (if not all) of the M40s will finish ahead of the second placed M35.

Chris Mardon will win the M45s in relative comfort. The only question is whether the winning margin will be more or less than two minutes. Just as many of the M40s will be wishing they were still in the M35s, many of the M50s will be looking at the M45 grade and wishing it was permitted to opt down an age group. There should be an interesting contest for silver. Neither Jason Baillie nor Grant McLean have returned to the times they were running two or three years ago but both look to be about the same speed currently. Grant is improving and getting closer to his old self with each advancing month so I expect he will see off Jason, who I assume is also coming back from injury. Glenn Macintosh and Dean Chiplin will be looking for any opportunity to hang on to Grant or Jason, but are unlikely to manage it, while Greg Monk is only making up the numbers.

Three centres have teams in the M35-49 contest: Canterbury, Southland and Wellington. I don’t recall the last time that Southland fielded a complete team and this is great to see – much credit has to go to Dwight Grieve for this achievement. Wellington are certain winners. The excitement is in seeing who will claim the final team spot. Stephen Day, Dan Nixon and Andrew Wharton should be the first three, but that fourth team medal is going to be a great sub-race between Alasdair Saunders, Paul Barwick and Stewart Milne. At the Wellington Road Champs, Alasdair earned the right to be dubbed favourite; now he has to deliver. Canterbury will probably pip Southland to silver. For the Southlanders to reverse that pick, Glenn Macintosh and Scott Underhay are going to have to win individual sub-races against Damian Cook and Jason Baillie.

Master Men 50+

After being allowed to have their own way at the NZ Cross Country Champs in Auckland, M50s Peter Stevens and Michael Wray are probably going to take a back seat. The class of Richard Bennett and Robbie Johnston has returned after a period of absence. The question is, are they fit? Johnston is a former Olympian who does not seem to have raced for a while, while Richard Bennett is a tough competitor who has repeatedly demonstrated he can hack it with runners 20 years his junior. Bennett ran a very atypical time at the Canterbury Road Champs and may well be vulnerable. If there is any vulnerability, then Peter Stevens is in the form to exploit it. Waikato’s Tony Broadhead has just turned 50 (though he’s now probably wishing he’d waited) and will be neck-and-neck with Michael Wray in hoping Richard and Robbie are unfit. Kelly Mcsoriley, Dave Kettles and Paul Hewitson should be in the next wave a little ahead of Malcolm Cornelius, Darren Hoolahan and James Turner.

The M55 field is all Canterbury and they all ran the Centre Champs. On that basis, Anthony Rogal can expect to thrash his rivals by two or three minutes. Tom Jarman will win silver, with John Gamblin taking bronze.

The M60 race is also an easy one to call. Wellington’s Tony Price will make up for only taking silver at cross country by taking gold with at least four minutes to spare. Derek Shaw is favourite for silver, while Grant Jeffreys will finish third to leave Rodger Ward as the one to miss out.

We have three M65s and it is probably the most difficult race to call. Barry Dewar, John Kent and Tony McManus will be very close and with similar pedigrees it will come down to who is closest to form on the day. My pick is Tony, Barry, John in those places but I wouldn’t put any money on it and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any configuration of the three emerge as the finishing order.

Of the three M70s, Michael Bond is the favourite to win the gold medal he won in both 2015 and 2016. Anson Clapcott is the biggest threat and was the last one to defeat Michael in this race when he won the M70 gold, relegating Michael to silver, in 2014. Tauranga’s John Shivas will be hoping to emerge as the dark horse to upset the odds.

The oldest man in the race is Wellington’s M80 Peter Hanson. Accordingly, Peter just has to finish to earn gold. Peter will be the last to finish and the only company he will get to enjoy after the first lap or two is in counting off the number of times he’s lapped!

In the M50+ teams, three Centres have full teams: Wellington, Otago and Canterbury. Wellington look to have the strength to see off Canterbury for the win. There are some interesting sub-races that could swing that around. The first is the Richard Bennett v Peter Stevens contest. And then Michael Wray, Dave Kettles and Paul Hewitson are in battle with Kelly Mcsoriley, Malcom Cornelius and Darren Hoolahan. Both centres have able back-up in James Turner (Wellington) and Anthony Rogal (Canterbury) who will be motivated by getting in a teams spot themselves. Despite fielding Robbie Johnston, Otago don’t have the depth to get out of third.
 

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 17 October 2017