New Zealand hammer thrower Julia Ratcliffe (© Alisha Lovrich)
A top-quality hammer showdown lit up day one of the rescheduled New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hastings on Friday (26) as Julia Ratcliffe defeated her Kiwi rival Lauren Bruce with a mighty Oceania record throw of 73.55m.
Since Bruce set the previous Oceania record with a huge five-metre-plus improvement and 73.47m mark at the same Mitre 10 Park venue back in September, she has emerged as New Zealand’s pre-eminent hammer thrower.
However, Ratcliffe, the Commonwealth champion and the fourth-place finisher at the 2012 World U20 Championships, is a fantastic competitor and rose to the challenge magnificently at the modified two-day meet, which three weeks earlier had been postponed because of Covid-19 restrictions in New Zealand.
Returning to Hastings, where two months earlier she failed to register a mark with her three throws, Ratcliffe surprised herself by smashing her PB by more than a metre and surpassing the Olympic qualification mark in round one with a 73.40m effort, going out “for a safe one”.
Her confidence buoyed, in round four she then added a further 15 centimetres to that mark to better Bruce’s Oceania record and seal a memorable competition.
Bruce performed solidly with a fourth-round best of 72.76m but today had to concede defeat to her more experienced rival, who secured national title number six.
“It feels so good to get the Olympic qualification mark off my plate and I can finally focus on building up for Tokyo,” Ratcliffe said.
“It was just awesome. It was like the culmination of 16 years of training with Dave (coach and father) in the crowd. In the last week or so training has been up and down, so to keep it altogether was the big challenge. It was more than I could have hoped.”
Walsh collects 12th straight title
Tom Walsh secured a 12th successive national shot title with a season’s best effort and championship best performance of 21.79m.
Minus the absent Jacko Gill, who opted not to extend his domestic season to compete at nationals in order to start his preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, Walsh was never seriously threatened and cruised to a comfortable win.
“I’m really happy with four of the throws today, I’m starting to feel like I do when I throw far,” said Walsh. “I just wasn’t quite nailing it off the hand.
“I did exactly what I wanted to do today through the comp. Earlier in the season I was beating myself up through the competitions but I got myself out of the hole I’d dug myself. I’m happy with the way it went.”
Title No.17 for Adams
Ten-time global champion Valerie Adams, who had been given a huge lift by securing her longest throw for five years with 19.65m at the Sir Graeme Douglas International in Auckland four weeks ago, claimed a record-equalling 17th national shot title.
Struggling to find any rhythm on a frustrating day, her best effort of 18.43m was delivered in round six.
“It is really awesome to win title number 17 tonight but I’m really gutted with how I performed tonight. But that’s the name of the game, you have to perform the very best you can.”
World U20 champion Maddison Wesche earned silver with 17.38m.
Away from the throws, Zoe Hobbs equalled the 28-year-old New Zealand women’s 100m record of 11.32 (1.4m/s). The 23-year-old sprinter has enjoyed a dominant summer and chipped 0.02 from her previous best to claim a victory which evoked mixed emotions.
“It is a relief, although it is bittersweet because it would have been nice to get that outright record,” she says. “It will be nice to take that next step – the outright record is now only 0.01 away!”
Triathlete Hayden Wilde successfully defended his national 5000m title in 13:43.53 to take out the 25-year-old championship best performance and offer further evidence of his pure running ability. Last month, the 23-year-old ran a 5000m PB of 13:29.47 in Hamilton and still harbours hopes of potentially appearing at the Tokyo Olympics in two sports.
Camille Buscomb's hopes of an ambitious and rarely achieved 800m-1500m-5000m treble faltered at the first hurdle as she had to settle for bronze in the two-lap event.
The 2019 World Championships 5000m and 10,000m 12th-place finisher was outclassed by Katherine Camp (2:06.50) with Buscomb a further 1.83 seconds back in bronze.
Buscomb returned just over three-and-a-half hours later, however, to secure her fourth national title in the 5000m (16:17.30). She returns on day two for a crack at the 1500m.
New Zealand men’s high jump record-holder Hamish Kerr, who set his outright national record of 2.31m in Wellington last month, was a little below-par en route to winning his sixth national title with a best of 2.24m.
Shay Veitch scored an unlikely men’s long jump and 100m double. The versatile 20-year-old athlete - who last year won 400m silver – leapt a wind-assisted 7.78m (2.4m/s) before just over an hour later returning to the track to collect the men’s 100m title in a seriously depleted field. Veitch stopped the clock in 10.38 (3.8m/s).
Steve Landells for World Athletics