News & Updates

29 November 2023 • Track and Field

Maiden New Zealand Secondary Schools Championship makes major impact

A quartet of athletes who competed at the inaugural New Zealand Secondary School Track & Field Championships in Christchurch share their memories of featuring at the historic 1973 event. Images supplied.

With the 50th anniversary of the New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships set to be toasted in Christchurch next month (8-10 December) we take a look back through the eyes of four competing athletes to the inaugural event, which took place at QE II Stadium in December 1973.

Kim Robertson

For Kim Robertson winning the senior girls 100m and 200m double at the 1973 New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships was the trigger for everything the gifted sprinter achieved in her subsequent career.

Aucklander Kim would go to represent her country three times at the Commonwealth Games, she set a New Zealand senior women’s 400m record of 51.60 in 1980 – which still stands today – and in 1985 won a 200m bronze medal at the World Indoor Games – the precursor to the World Indoor Championships.

Yet it was competing at QEII Stadium in December 1973 which lit the fuse for Kim and acted as the kick-start for more than a decade of performing on the international stage.

“All I’d previously done prior to the 1973 secondary schools champs was train in children’s athletics at Hillsborough Junior Athletics Club and later at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School,” explains Kim. “But running and winning at those championship made me realise I could do a lot better in athletics. I knew the ability was there. My mum was a wonderful runner, and my dad was a great league player. It was post these championships I was introduced to a coach, Tim McIntyre, who was aged 90 at that time but who had more New Zealand sprint champions than anyone else. Winning (at the 1973 NZ Secondary Schools Athletics Championships) which started everything off. To become the fastest secondary school girl in the country was special.”

Running back then without a coach, the event was far bigger than she had ever previously been involved with and it left Kim feeling “very nervous.” However, she managed to control any apprehension she may have felt to secure a hugely impressive double, winning the 100m in an impressive 11.66 and 200m in 23.95.

“I was probably more of a 200m runner, and I was most proud of this performance because it was a Secondary School record that stood for a long time. The 100m was a fast time too,” adds Kim now aged 66, who works in the winery business near Sacramento, California.

Aged 16 at the time her performance caught the eye of selectors for the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch and she was picked to compete for her country back at the QEII Stadium just eight weeks later in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay.

Kim, who exited the heats of the 100m, 200m and finished fifth in the 4x100m relay, has many cherished memories of competing at that iconic event and adds: “It was mind-blowing (to win selection) I stayed down in Christchurch with my great aunt for eight weeks after secondary schools which was a long time to be away from my parents. The Games were way out of my realm, and I’d never stayed in an Athletes’ Village before. It was a great experience to eat the food in the village and to room with another athlete. I shared with Lorraine Moller (the 1992 Olympic marathon bronze medallist) who was wonderful. I had so many vivid memories of the Games of watching Dick Tayler win, John Walker take on Filbert Bayi in the 1500m and the great Raelene Boyle sprint to three gold medals.”

Terry Lomax

Terry Lomax may today be best known as one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent coaches yet for the Christchurch local the inaugural New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships evoke a kaleidoscope of happy memories as he secured the junior boys high jump title with a best of 1.85m.

Starting athletics at the age of seven and taking up the high jump around the age of “nine or 10”, Terry had already been immersed in the sport for more than half his life when he competed at the 1973 New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships. And the enormity and significance of the event was not wasted on the man who has guided Hamish Kerr to the New Zealand high jump record and 2022 Commonwealth gold.

“It was a huge deal because it was tied in with the Commonwealth Games which was coming up and it was the first all-weather track we’d had in Canterbury. This meet expanded the horizons in terms of my athletics possibilities.”

Having improved his high jump PB during the early part of the 1973-74 summer season by 16cm – up to 1.80m – prior to the first ever New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships he was optimistic of a good showing.

However, facing a huge field of 57 competitors in a competition which was drawn out over more than three-and-a-half hours there was always a sense of the unknown.

“The whole atmosphere was dynamic,” recalls Terry. “We had something like 2500 athletes competing and I remember heat after heat of the 100m. Organisers ran them every two minutes with no computers back then just a pen and paper and back up stopwatches. During the event they trialled many of the systems used at the Commonwealth Games just eight weeks later. I’m sure they would have known getting through an event of such intensity with so many athletes across a two-day programme would have given them the assurance they needed that they could also handle a Commonwealth Games.”

With the heights raised by 5cm at a time, Terry, a Christchurch Boys’ High School student at that time, proved the cream of the pack with a third time clearance and PB of 1.85m securing gold.

“The fact I jumped higher than the senior boys’ high jump winner (Kieran McKee, a close friend of Terry) showed to me that I am decent at the event. Back then I did several events, I hurdled, I ran the 4x400m relay but Christchurch gave me that nudge in the direction of high jump. Later that season I finished fifth or sixth at the last ever single event New Zealand Junior Championships (it later merged into the main programme with the seniors) and I ended the season ranked in the top ten high jumpers in the country.”

Dianne Rodger

Dianne Rodger went on to enjoy an outstanding senior career, which included two Olympic appearances and World Cross Country team medals but one of her greatest early successes arrived at those inaugural New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships in Christchurch.

Aged 17 at the time the Colenso High School student – then Dianne Zorn – had carved out a reputation as one of the country’s leading young cross country runners but her journey down from Hawke’s Bay to Canterbury was a step into the unknown as she flew down thanks to event sponsors Mt Cook Airlines entered both the 400m and 800m (the latter event the longest event on the programme for female athletes at that time).

“I was totally blind to what might happen,” recalls Dianne, who had to sit an exam on the Thursday before the competition at Canterbury University. “I remember getting through my 800m heat and I knew I had a hard 800m final to come. I was entered in the 400m, and I am no 400m runner, so I recall just about walking down the home straight of the 400m to get myself out of the race.

“It was the first time I’d raced on a proper all-weather track in a vast stadium. I remember my legs after racing felt very sore because it impacts on the legs differently to grass.”

Pitched in against Allison Deed (now Allison Roe) who went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, Dianne knew she faced a tough battle for gold. However, the Napier-based teenager repelled the challenge to strike gold by a margin of more than one-and-a-half seconds to take top spot on the podium from Deed in a slick 2:10.67.

“I don’t remember too much of the race, although it is certainly a good feeling to be New Zealand champion,” said Rodger, who later placed fifth at the 1982 World Cross Country Championships and ninth in the 3000m final at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. “I have kept a newspaper clipping of the event which said “the battle of the blondes” or something like that. Winning the secondary school title (which she went on to defend the following year) gave me the incentive to do more.”

Tony Rogers

As current Chair/President of the New Zealand Secondary Schools Athletics Association, Tony Rogers has a deep affinity with its annual track and field championship – a bond first forged at the inaugural event.

Aged 16 at the time the Fairfield College student based out of Hamilton was entered in the senior boys’ 800m and was blown away for the scale and enormity of the event.

“It was the first time I’d ever been to the South Island, the first time I’d ever run in a stadium like QEII and the first time I’d run on a soft rubber chip all-weather track. For me, it was a big trip. There was more than 2000 entrants, which was amazing. The whole event was a massive undertaking.”

A first-year senior at the time, Tony did not harbour any huge ambitions of success and at his first crack at the championship was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 800m.

Just eight weeks after exiting the semifinals he recalls watching the Commonwealth Games at the same QEII Stadium.

“It was awe-inspiring to watch the Games in colour TV – the first time New Zealand had broadcast in colour,” he explains. “The event etched a big place in my heart and made me aspire to be a John Walker, Rod Dixon or Dick Tayler.”

He returned to compete at the 1974 New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships a better and more motivated runner and duly clinched gold in the senior boys’ 800m final, recording a rapid 1:55.6.

Tony would go on to enjoy an accomplished international career finishing ninth in the men’s 1500m final at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and now as Chair/President of the New Zealand Secondary Schools Athletics Association he can look back with pride that the annual event is 50 not out.

“I would never have thought back in 1973 I would have an involvement in the sport as an athlete, coach and administrator for 50 years. But competing at that first New Zealand Secondary Schools Championship definitely gave my athletics career a real impetus.”