NZ National Cross Country Champs
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 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
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
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.