News & Updates

27 January 2021 • Track and Field

Rich history makes Classic series mainstay of calendar

The Potts Classic regularly attracts some of the country’s top athletes, such as sprinter Zoe Hobbs (Photo: Mark Roberts)

The five-strong one-day Classic series has proved a mainstay of the domestic track and field campaign for more than 20 years. We find out more about the history and heritage of each meeting with the help of the event organisers.

Lovelock Classic
Aorangi Park, Timaru

What is the background to the meet?

The Lovelock Classic is named after Jack Lovelock, the 1936 Olympic 1500m champion, who carried out much of his schooling in South Canterbury. Beginning as a new year meeting in 2005, six years later the event was granted Classic status by Athletics NZ. It is currently the only Classic meet on the South Island.

What have been some of the event highlights?

The feature event is the Lovelock Mile, which was introduced in 2008. A women’s mile became part of the event in 2013 and past winners of the men’s mile include 2016 Olympic 1500m athlete Hamish Carson and Daniel Balchin, who has claimed victory on three occasions.

“The Lovelock Mile is extremely popular, we have big sponsorship money at this event, and have attracted up to 20 athletes in the race in the last few years,” explains event organiser Helen Mackle, who says $600 is on offer to the winner with a further $400 up for grabs for a sub-four-minute mile.

Another past star performer has been world indoor and Commonwealth shot put champion Tom Walsh, who has proved a big hit as he hails from Timaru.

“When he competed a few years back he brought some of his top throwing mates to the meeting,” adds Helen. “It was great to have top level competition here.”

Other prominent South Island athletes to have competed at the meet include Olympic 800m runner Angie Petty, Paralympic long jump champion Anna Grimaldi, long jumper Kelsey Berryman and sprint hurdler Fiona Morrison.

What does the meet mean to the South Canterbury region?

The event has multiple benefits, according to Helen.

“The Lovelock Classic brings in athletes from all over New Zealand, it brings in money to the South Canterbury area and also lets the athletics community know we have an all-weather track here. The meeting gives up and coming athletes the opportunity to compete against more experienced athletes, it gives them to chance to compete in a major event, and enables those who do not have the resources to travel to the North Island the chance to compete in a Classic. Meanwhile, it also builds up skills for local officials, officiating at a New Zealand event.”

What is special and unique about the meet?

Helen believes it is hard to put a price on the inspirational benefits of holding the Lovelock Classic to the younger generation.

For many younger athletes, she says the Lovelock Classic might be their one opportunity each year to compete at a Classic meet and this can have incalculable benefits.

“The youngsters get the thrill of competing and saying, ‘I’ve ran against and I can be as good as such and such if I work hard’. It is hoped after such an experience that the athletes may then look at the sport in a different light.”

The Children’s Lovelock meeting on the morning of the event is ideal preparation for the South Island Colgate Games the following weekend and many youngsters stay to watch the Classic in the afternoon, which again acts as a motivation to stay engaged with the sport.

Potts Classic
Mitre 10 Park Hawke’s Bay

What is the background to the meet?

Following the death of 1968 Olympic athlete and two-time Commonwealth Games representative Sylvia Potts from cancer in 1999, it was decided to put on an event in her name.

The inaugural Potts Classic took place in 2000 and this month witnessed the 21st edition of the event, later retitled the Allan and Sylvia Potts Classic following the death of Sylvia’s husband, Allan, from bone cancer in 2014. 

How has the meet evolved over the past two decades?

According to event organiser Richard Potts, the son of Allan and Sylvia, the event has grown year-on-year since the inaugural edition.

“We have tried to make it more specific to the stronger events of the local athletes,” he explains.

Sylvia’s background as a former middle-distance star ensured that from the outset the women’s 800m was one of the meeting’s feature events.

“Dad had a big trophy made and ever since then the emphasis has been on more sponsorship and prize money for the women’s 800m,” explains Richard. “Since dad passed away we have also decided to do the same for the men’s 800m.”

What have been some of the event highlights?

As a nine-time winner of the women’s 800m at the Potts Classic, Cantabrian Angie Petty has become strongly associated with the event. Th2 2019 event saw world leading marks of 21.38m by Tom Walsh in the shot and a 4.85m pole vault clearance by Eliza McCartney. While among the top performing overseas athletes was former co-Australian 800m record-holder Alex Rowe.

Yet Richard’s personal highlight came when Nick Willis won the men’s 800m in 2016.

“Nick’s status meant we had a huge amount of interest in the 800m and we were able to run three races with more than 30 entries,” he recalls. “Nick being here really helped the promotion of the middle-distance running.”

What does the meet mean to the region?

“It is great for the local athletes such as Georgia Hulls (the national 400m champion) and Nick Palmer (the New Zealand U18 shot champion) to compete in their home region and put on a show for the locals,” explains Richard. “The event is also free entry – just a gold coin donation for the Cancer Society. From the gate receipts, sponsorship and cash ex-athletes raise, we are able to donate around $4000 to the Cancer Society.”

What is special and unique about the meet?

Held in the stunning Hawkes Bay – which is well known for its idyllic summer conditions – the event is becoming an increasingly popular destination for New Zealand’s elite athletes.

“We always receive great feedback that the event is always warm and welcoming,” explains Richard. “We try to run a smooth meet, where we try to cater for everyone.

“We like to put on a nice, short, compact meet to show off our New Zealand stars and any visiting athletes from overseas.”

Cooks Classic
Cooks Gardens, Whanganui

What is the background to the meet?

Hosted at a venue made famous following Sir Peter Snell’s world-record-breaking mile of 3:54.4 in 1962, the event has since become synonymous with the classic distance. Over the years, Cooks Gardens has witnessed some 65 sub-four-minute miles with some of the international greats of the sport such as Craig Mottram, Kip Keino and Mo Farah, plus Kiwi legends Rod Dixon, Sir John Walker and Dick Quax, all achieving that feat at the iconic venue. 

Back in the 60s and 70s, the event regularly attracted the greats of the sport such as three-time Olympic sprint champion Irena Szewinska of Poland and 1976 Olympic 100m gold medallist Hasely Crawford of Trinidad and Tobago.

Its current incarnation as the Cooks Classic emerged around 20 years ago, according to long-time event organiser and Whanganui athletics stalwart Alec McNab.

“When the old meet finished and a newer professional era was developed, we got together with organisers of what became the Potts Classic and out of that the Cooks Classic was born,” he explains. “Later the Capital Classic was formed and we had a good series of events on the lower North Island.”

What have been some of the event highlights?

The mile race has formed the heartbeat of the meeting. Nick Willis has ran a record-breaking five sub-four-minute miles at Cooks Gardens, including the meet record 3:52.75 which he ran when pipping Craig Mottram (3:53.14), in an epic encounter in 2006.

The rich mile heritage of the meet remains its main selling point but, as Alec explains, its ability to innovate has also been a strength.

“We have introduced the Fastest Kid on the Block for under-12 athletes which has proved really popular,” he explains. “Kids aged 12 and under run throughout the region with the fastest kids competing at Cooks. It has become a vibrant part of the meeting with the kids getting a 15-to-20 minute slot to compete.”

A winner-takes-all 400m handicap and in the past a javelin handicap have also proved a hit with spectators and athletes alike.

Porritt Classic
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton

What is the background to the meet?

Hamilton’s one-day meeting featured as part of the TVNZ athletics series in the 1970s and continued in several different guises during the 1980s and 1990s, where it attracted strong overseas names such as Lithuania’s 2000 and 2004 Olympic discus champion Virgilijus Alekna and Kenya’s 2000 Olympic 1500m gold medallist Noah Ngeny. The first official Porritt Classic – named after Sir Arthur Porritt, the 1924 Olympic 100m bronze medallist and 11th Governor General of New Zealand – took place in 1999.

“That first year was amazing,” explains meet director Criss Strange. “Frankie Fredericks (the four-time Olympic sprint medallist of Namibia) won the 200m in 20.29 and Chris Donaldson of New Zealand ran 10.27 to win the 100m. Both are still meet records to this day with Fredericks’ time still the New Zealand all-comers record.”

How has the meet evolved over the past two decades?

The sport of athletics has evolved to now have a far greater emphasis on competitions in the Northern Hemisphere. Plus, major world events taking place every year has made attracting big overseas names to New Zealand increasingly tough. But the Porritt Classic, which has traditionally been staged in mid-February, regularly attracts the leading Kiwi athletes. The likes of double Olympic champion Dame Valerie Adams, former world discus champion Beatrice Faumuina and double Commonwealth middle-distance silver medallist Nikki Hamblin have all featured at the meet as well as leading Para athletes, such as long jumper Anna Grimaldi, javelinist Holly Robinson and 2019 world champion shot putter Lisa Adams.

“The timing of the event prior to the New Zealand championships means it has regularly attracted around 400 athletes. Most of these are Kiwis,” adds Criss.

What is special and unique about the meet?

The event has been a mainstay on the New Zealand athletics calendar for 20 years and Criss believes several factors mark out the meeting as special.

“The athletes will tell you it is always well organised and one of the few opportunities for all level of athletes to compete in an open event against champions.”

“We have also been able to promote our own local heroes like Camille Buscomb, Julia Ratcliffe, Stuart Farquhar and Cameron French.”

The event has also been able to create innovative means of raising its profile. For example, 60m handicap events have been organised for athletes aged 60 to 90, which have proved hugely popular.

Capital Classic
Newtown Park, Wellington

What is the background to the meet?

The 15th anniversary meet was toasted in 2019. Formerly, the venue hosted a one-day as part of the Smokefree Series and Bartercard Grand Prix series, the last of which took place in 2003. The following year, Wellington was not granted an event as part of the series and out of this the Capital Classic was born in 2005.

“Our senior athletics structure had waned since the halcyon days of the sport and the driving force behind putting on the athletics meeting was ensuring that one of the main athletics hubs held a quality annual meet,” explains event organiser Tony Rogers.

The meet worked closely with the Potts and Cooks Classics to put on a series of meets in close proximity in terms of timing with the additional advantage of sharing costs.

What have been some of the event highlights?

Double Olympic 1500m medallist Nick Willis has been a regular performer on his home track – and always a welcome presence. Other leading athletes to have featured in the Capital Classic include Eliza McCartney and pioneering Kiwi pole vaulter Melina Hamilton. Australian Rorey Hunter set a meet record for the 3000m in 2019 with other strong supporters of the event including New Zealand endurance runners Angie Petty and Camille Buscomb, along with domestic throwing icons Stuart Farquhar and Beatrice Faumuina.

What does the meet mean to Wellington?

“It is critical and gives our sport exposure in the region,” explains Tony. “During the times when Christchurch was out of action without a track, the Capital Classic was a reasonably accessible track meet for those down in Canterbury as Wellington is a strong airline hub. The Capital has always been a meet run to a good standard, where we appreciate the officials by gifting them a piece of apparel.”