News & Updates

27 January 2024 • Track and Field

Tanner and Aitkenhead clinch back-to-back NZ mile crowns

Sam Tanner (right) held off the challenge of Australian Callum Davies to secure mile victory at Cook's Gardens. Credit: (Nat Kirk).

Sam Tanner and Rebekah Aitkenhead (nee Greene) provided a barnstorming finale to the 2024 Pak’nSave Cooks Classic to retain their respective New Zealand mile titles under the floodlights at the iconic Cook’s Gardens.  

An emphatic final lap by Tanner – a 3:49.51 miler at his best – delivered a third national senior men’s mile crown for the 23-year-old Athletics Tauranga athlete who stopped the clock in 3:55.11 to finish 1.05 seconds clear of Australian 1500m and 5000m champion Callum Davies in second.

Pacemaker Daniel Sinclair took the field through the first 800m in 1:56 but once he swung off the side of the track at 900m it was Tanner who hit the front tracked closely by the bespectacled Davies, who finished second in this race 12 months ago.

Remaining calm and composed the New Zealand middle-distance star unleashed his trademark ferocious kick in the final lap and quickly create a winning buffer to clinch his eighth national senior title. Davies finished strongly to take second with David Lee (Whippets), the second Kiwi athlete home in a huge PB of 4:02.21 taking the silver medal. Lee’s club-mate William Little, who was recently selected to compete in the senior men’s race at the 2024 World Cross Country Championships, grabbed a PB of 4:03.66 for bronze. A total of eight men in the field registered a PB as the spiritual home of New Zealand middle-distance running once again delivered.

Tanner, who next Friday (2 February) is targeting the New Zealand 3000m Championships as part of the Team Ledger Harcourts Capital Classic in Wellington, said: “I love running in Whanganui it comes with the history too, so it is special to be able to stand in a place where I broke four minutes for the first time and world records have been set here too.

On his battle with Davies the Australian Tanner added: “Me and Callum have been racing each other since World Juniors in 2018 – essentially beating me to make the final there. We have a good rivalry, so it is fun to keep that going.”

Aitkenhead and Laura Nagel – the two dominant female middle-distance runners over the past couple of seasons – produced a battle for the ages with the Hill City athlete prevailing in a titanic tussle by just four hundredths of a second, clocking 4:33.55.

With pacemaker Poppy Healy taking them through the first 600m it was Nagel who was in the unfamiliar position of leading tracked by Aitkenhead. The pair went through two laps in around 2:18 with the South Island athlete easing into the lead down the back straight on the penultimate lap.

The status quo remained until Nagel of North Harbour Bays made her move around the final bend and taking a marginal lead with 70 metres remaining it appeared the national 1500m, 3000m and 5000m champion was destined to add another New Zealand crown. But Aitkenhead would not be denied and straining every sinew her lunge for the line brought her a hard-fought victory in a gripping climax to the race. Nagel had the consolation of silver and a PB.

Aitkenhead said of the latter stages of the race: “I was just trying to get to the line. I know Laura has a very good kick and I’ve been on the receiving end of it, so it was really nice to be able to hold it and have the confidence to take it right to the line.

“I had no idea I had won the race I just hoped I had dipped a bit better.” Next Aitkenhead hopes to compete in races in Adelaide in Melbourne with the focus on the 1500m.

Pacific Games 800m and 1500m gold medallist Tillie Hollyer (Whippets) took out bronze in a PB of 4:43.11 with Peyton Leigh (Auckland City) also posting a PB in fourth (4:50.60). Six of the 11 finishers recorded lifetime bests for the classic distance.

Commonwealth high jump champion Hamish Kerr once again demonstrated his class by completing a sixth successive victory at the Pak’nSave Cooks Classic with a confidence boosting season’s best clearance of 2.27m. Added 4cm on to his season’s best he will now head overseas to compete in Melbourne in the middle of February and on to the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Glasgow in early March full of confidence.

Entering the competition with a first time clearance at 2.15m, the 2022 World Indoor bronze medallist maintained his flawless record at 2.19m before equalling his season’s best following a second time effort at 2.23m. Then after two hiccups at 2.27m the Christchuch Old Boys athlete kept his nerve with his third attempt to wriggle clear. Unfortunately, 2.30m was out of range today but a decent final effort will fuel him with further belief with bigger competitions on the horizon.

Wellington Harrier Hugo Jones, 17, enjoyed a day to remember advancing his PB from 1.99m to 2.07m to grab second.

Kerr, who also won at the Jumps to Music meet in Hawera on Wednesday with a 2.21m clearance, said: “The legs are more sore jumping 2.27m than they normally would, but that is what happens when you jump midweek as well. But today is great prep early in the season for some of the bigger comps to come.

“It is awesome jumping with the locals. I love jumping in Whanganui and it was exciting to see Hugo jump 2.07m tonight.”

Imogen Skelton (Auckland City) cleared a handy season’s best of 1.80m to take out the women’s high jump. Commonwealth finalist Keeley O’Hagan retired without clearing a height due to a hamstring niggle.

New Zealand 400m hurdles record-holder Portia Bing enjoyed an excellent day completing the 200m and 400m double at a windy Cooks Gardens. In the former event, Bing, a four-time World Championships representative, held off the late charging Chayille Collette (New Zealand Secondary Schools) by 0.01, clocking 24.12 (+3.9m/s).

Later Bing returned to the track to secure a far more decisive triumph in the women’s 400m clocking a season’s best time of 53.73 – 0.03 quicker than she set when winning in Hastings last Saturday. Adopting a conservative approach for the first half of the race she made her move by accelerating clear of early leader Camryn Smart (North Harbour Bays) around the final bend and went on to complete a comprehensive win. Smart held on for second in 55.67 – 0.13 clear of Amelie Fairclough (NZSS).

Collette, 18, the national U18 and U19 200m record-holder, earlier secured victory in the women’s 100m in 11.75 (+3.7ms).

Jake Doran took the plaudits in the men’s 100m as he claimed a comfortable victory in 10.40 (+2.0m/s) to erase the 24-year-old Stadium Record of Gus Nketia. The 2022 Australian 100m champion and Commonwealth Games semi-finalist with a best of 10.15 demonstrated his ability to finish 0.23 ahead of Cody Wilson (Mana), who had earlier bagged 200m victory in a 21.20 aided by a significant +4.0m/s tailwind.

James Ford and Thomas Cowan have enjoyed some titanic battles over 800m this season – with the pair both setting a World U20 Championships performance standard for the distance at the Daikin Night of 5s last month – but tonight the exciting teenage duo clashed in the men’s 400m. In a fiercely competitive battle Ford, the New Zealand Secondary Schools senior boys’ 400m gold medallist, put on the after burners down the home stretch to win in a slick 48.09 – just 0.15 outside of his lifetime best. Zach Saunders (Pakuranga) finished strongly to grab second in 48.76 ahead of Cowan who was rewarded with a 0.01 PB of 48.82.  

In the men’s long jump, Lewis Arthur maintained his excellent start to the season by matching his PB distance when winning the Potts Classic seven days ago to secure top spot in Whanganui with a leap of 7.48m (3.0m/s). The 24-year-old North Harbour Bays athlete, who also squeezed in a victory at the Jumps to Music in Hawera to complete a perfect week.

Masaka Tomooka (Christchurch Old Boys) celebrated a sizeable PB of 7.04m (+1.7m/s) in second. Phobe Edwards (Kiwi AC) shattered her three-year-old lifetime best to take out the women’s long jump with a best of 5.89m (+1.0m/s).

Nick Palmer, who last week set a sizeable PB of 19.76m at the Potts Classic, could not quite match that level of performance today. Registering two legal throws, the Hastings AC athlete went out to 18.93m in round five to secure top spot.

Former World Championship finalist Sae Takemoto of Japan headed an all overseas clean sweep of the podium in the women’s javelin with a best of 54.47m. Meanwhile, 2023 World Championship representative Felise Vahai Sosaia of France was a comprehensive winner of the men’s javelin with a best of 74.73m ahead of New Zealand champion Douw Botes (63.05m).

The Thomson siblings – Scott and Anna – claimed victory in their respective triple jump competitions. Scott (Auckland City) with a best of 14.34m (+4.5) nabbing top spot in the men’s event with Anna (Mana) leaping out to 12.11m (+2.4) in the women’s competition.

National champion Jonathan Maples (Athletics Wanganui) finished first in the men’s 400m hurdles in 54.87. Sophie Hancock (New Zealand Secondary Schools) snared the women’s 400m hurdles in 1:02.72.

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