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2019 NZ Cross Country Champs Preview

Wellington listened to the complaints from the 2018 NZ Cross Country Championships and for 2019 the NZ Champs course has been moved to Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt. This decision will no doubt disappoint the mud lovers but the reality is Grenada Park is simply not up to hosting two races in a single month during winter and the Wellington Centre Champs, held a couple of weeks ago, has already torn up the park. The ground was in such poor condition the Wellington Champs had to use a reduced circuit with the long race requiring six laps. The problem with the increased number of laps was the ground took additional punishment, cutting up the circuit even more than usual. There was no way Wellington would have been able to hold Nationals on this course again.

Harcourt was not available for Centre Champs so for most runners in Wellington, this new course will be unfamiliar. Harcourt has been used by College Sport Wellington for their cross county champs so if you want the inside scoop, find a youngster.

The numbers are slightly down on 2018, which as far as I can tell was the largest field entered in a NZ Cross Country Championships for at least a couple of decades. With 512 entrants, 2019 is still the second largest field in that time.

The M35 grade has grown since last year and we have 17 runners. The 2018 champion is not available to defend his title but all of last year’s second to seventh place getters are on the start list. Nathan Foley finished second last year. This year he has had a good build up, winning the Captain Cook Landing Trail race, finishing second M35 at the North Island Cross Country Champs and winning masters at the Taranaki Cross Country Champs. Competition will be stiff and he can expect to find Canterbury’s M35 winner Chris Kelly and Otago’s M35 winner Glen Chisholm to be in his pack. Glen was fifth last year but his Otago Champs performance shows he can run well with a more reliable surface. Canterbury’s Ryan Kiesanowski finished 16 seconds behind Chris in Christchurch so will also be in the mix. Richard Swan, Tom Bland and Simon Wills (all from Wellington) are another three who could spring a surprise but the one to watch is Wellington’s Dougal Thorburn. Dougal has the pedigree but is he fully fit? This will be Dougal’s first race since he won the masters at the NZ Mountain Running Champs in April.

NZ’s M40s are a strong set of runners but those contesting the M40 grade may be relieved to see the defending champion, Waikato’s Steve Rees-Jones, has decided to contest seniors this year. Steve seems to alternate between masters or seniors and, after thrashing the masters field at North Island Cross Country earlier this year, he has decided to test himself against younger stock. This is a shame for the spectators as Auckland’s Greg Darbyshire, who contested the senior grade himself back in 2018, is lining up in the masters. Greg did not run the Auckland Champs but did two of Auckland’s Grand Prix cross country races where he finished fourth senior man in one and won the masters by over a minute (not to mention taking out all but three seniors) in the other. The other two big guns in this race are last year’s second and third placers: Wellington’s Stephen Day and Brian Garmonsway. This year Brian has had the edge over Stephen so would appear to be the biggest challenger to Greg. South Island and Canterbury champion David Fitch, who has finished fifth and fourth in the last two years, should team up with Andrew Wharton (sixth in 2018), Dan Nixon (third in 2017), Dan Clendon (second in 2017) and Mat Rogers (finished between Andrew and Dan Clendon at Wellington Champs) to form the chasing pack.

The top two M45s from 2018 are not running. Race director and 2018 winner Todd Stevens will be in attendance but the word is he’s sulking at being outvoted on keeping the mud! Nick Moore was fourth M40 in 2018, when he finished a couple of minutes ahead of 2018’s third M45 Dean Chiplin, so Nick may fancy his chances of celebrating a new age group with a win. He comes into this race having already won the M45s at the Auckland Champs. Dean will be buoyed by having won gold at the North Island Cross Country Champs but Waikato’s Jason Cameron and Joe Fowler from Wellington’s Olympic Harriers are the ones most likely to lead the charge against Nick. Otago’s Andrew Lonie didn’t run so well on the mud last year but he recently finished second master overall (first M45) at the Otago Champs. On the firmer pastures of Harcourt, he could be in the hunt for a podium place.

It looks like there are only two M35-49 teams. Auckland are a man short, unless they have an unpublished late entry. Wellington, as you would expect from the hosts, have a complete team and they should win. Canterbury have one to spare with five selected but will need a little luck to overhaul Wellington.

The M50 medallists will be a completely new line-up from last year’s podium; two of last year’s top three are not running and one has moved up to the M55 grade. There appear to be four main picks for the top three. Of these, Jim Jones is the pre-race favourite. Jim has run three cross country races this season, in which he won the Wellington title and produced the fastest M50 lap times in two cross country relays. Two of the remaining picks have swapped places so far this season: Grant McLean finished ahead of Michael Wray in the Vosseler and Wellington Champs; Michael won the Dorne Cup and ran faster times in the relays. Auckland’s Blair Cossey is also in the mix. Blair beat Michael last year but lost to him the year before. There could be any finishing order between these three and they’re not assured of completing the medals. Wellington’s Dave Kettles and Canterbury’s John Marshall should, at worst, be pretty close too. John is new to the age group and finished ahead of Blair last year, as did Dave. Dave only missed a bronze medal in 2018 thanks to a sprint finish by Richard Bennett. Best of the rest is Malcolm Cornelius, who is capable of out-kicking anyone within range over the final few hundred metres.

After claiming the M50 silver medal in 2018, Peter Stevens would normally be considered the favourite to win the M55s. There is a question mark on his race fitness after an ankle injury forced him to sit out both the North Island and Wellington Champs. Paul Hewitson is racing well at the moment, claiming second M50-59 (to an M50) in the Wellington Champs and second M55 (to Hamilton’s Chris Smith, who is not running) in the North Island Champs. Cliff Bowman, who ran 28:42 at the Nelson Champs, will be hard to beat. These three should be the podium but don’t be surprised if Canterbury’s Anthony Rogal forces his way in. Anthony is another who struggled in the mud last year and although he didn’t contest the Canterbury Champs, he won gold at the South Island Cross Country Champs.

Expect a good race at the front of the M60s. Geoff Anderson won in 2018, Robin Grant won in 2017 while Tony Price was second both years. Robin and Tony also finished first and second at the North Island Cross Country Champs. This suggests the race for gold will be between Geoff and Robin, with Tony claiming third. David Hood, Peter Richards and Todd Krieble will vie for the role of party poopers.

Just as we have with the M35-49 teams, the M50 race features only two complete teams. Manawatu-Wanganui is the centre that is a man short. The verdict is the same, albeit that the winning margin will be bigger than for the younger masters men: Wellington will win with Canterbury second.

Graeme Lear and Gavin Smith were the first two M65s in 2018 and they are back again. Graeme won his race in Nelson running 22:55, which is an impressive time even if other results suggest it was a fast course. Gavin won the North Island Champs but finished second in the Waikato Champs (to Dennis Litt, who is not competing). There are six other M65s. The race for third seems to be wide open. Max O’Kane and Murray Laird are possibly the two at the head of the queue.

Last year’s first four M70s are still recovering from the mud so we have an open M70 race. All are North Islanders. Waikato’s Fred Needham won the North Island title and he also had a good showing at his Centre Champs, which makes him the favourite. Wellington’s Tony Dawbin is a good bet for at least second after winning in Wellington over 5km by 2.5 minutes. To complete the podium, keep an eye on the race between Taranaki champ Des Phillips and Wellington’s Bob Stephens.

Michael Bond should win the M75 race, providing he has recovered from the injury that cost him most of his 2018 season. Michael did not run at either of the Canterbury or South Island Champs; is he fit or will he repeat his DNS of 2018? Peter Ellis will finish with a comfortable margin over the other M75 in the race, Ray Wallis.

Our two M80s have already won the race to get to the start line and the finishing order between them is easy to call. Neither contested their respective Centre Championships but Wellington’s Peter Hanson performs better in his age group over sprint distances, while Dave Eastmond is the reverse and prefers the longer/middle distance races.

Lisa Cross won the Senior Women’s title last year and this year she’s entered the masters. Expect her to win the W35 title and be first MW overall. Otago’s Kristy Eyles ran the senior women’s grade in her Centre Champs, claiming second, and she will be one of two W35s trying to keep up with Lisa. The other is Auckland’s Anwen Robinson, who finished third in the senior women’s grade at the Auckland Centre Champs. It’s hard to see anyone else taking a podium spot. The chasing pack trying to defy that prediction will be led by Wellingtonians Anna Douglas and Sally Duffy.

None of last year’s W40 medallists are running but the W40 field boasts some talent and we could have some close races. Mel Stevens won the Wellington and North Island Champs, while Jo Ramsay won the Canterbury and South Island Champs. Last year these two finished five seconds apart. The W40 race should therefore be between these two and it may well remain undecided until the final few hundred metres. Mel Aitken is another one to watch. This race may be a tad short for her to make her mark and she is also running the senior grade later in the day. Kirstin Foley and Renae Creser are probably the best of the rest.

The W45s have some closely matched runners. Wellington’s Katie Jenkins and Canterbury’s Jin Flanagan are the ones to contend with being labelled favourites. Katie was the 2018 silver medallist and took third in the North Islands, although she didn’t run the Wellington Champs. Jin won the Canterbury Champs and was second at South Islands. Third is an open race. Michelle Van Looy should keep clear of fourth spot to win the final podium place.

There is only one team in the W35-49 section. Auckland are one short of a team, so Wellington will have a domestic race between team mates to decide who gets the medals for the four counting team spots.

In the W50s, Auckland’s Sian Dawson starts as the favourite but she will be chased by team mate Sue Parcell. The battle for third place is another domestic rivalry: Manawatu-Wanganui’s Dale McMillan will look to repeat her performance from the Centre Champs where she finished a couple of places ahead of Di Matthews.

There’s a good sized W55 field. Defending champion Sally Gibbs is the obvious pick for the win. I understand Sally is still not quite 100% but she won the W55s at North Islands by four minutes and also took out the Waikato senior title. Wellington’s Victoria Humphries should be second, with one of Carline Thomas or Christine Lear following. Helen Willis is the dark horse hoping to force her way into the medals.

The W60 race is an all-North Island affair and includes the first four W60s from the North Island Champs. The winner of that race was the Auckland Champ Margie Peat. Back running after some time off is former NZ World Cross Country rep Lesley Graham. Lesley won the Wellington Champs and has been dominant in the grade in Wellington interclub races this season. It should be a great race between her and Margie. For third, Jo Speary will have Judith Taylor in close attention in a repeat of their race in Taupo where Jo finished just 11 seconds ahead of Judith at the North Islands.

We only have one W65 and one W70, meaning Joy Baker and Barbara Patrick will need to look to the W60 racers for company.

In the W50+ ranks, Wellington are the only centre with a team so they will be the inaugural W50 Team Champions. Both Manawatu-Wanganui and Auckland are a single runner shy of a team. One wonders if the other centres have forgotten about the new W50 teams division.



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  Last Updated 27 February 2023