NZ starts strongly in Nitro Athletics Series

New Zealand’s team came out of the blocks flying at round 1 of the Coles Nitro Athletics in Melbourne on Saturday evening, leading after three events before setting into third and fading a little to fifth place by the end of the night with 795 points.

Usain Bolt’s All-Star team won round one with 1080 points from Australia on 1050, China 845, Japan 810 and England lying sixth on 735.

Nick Southgate claimed the honour of the first ever Nitro competitor, with his first time clearance at 5.00m, the Kiwis took the challenge to the big guns of Bolts All Stars and Australia.

A double points effort by Olivia Eaton (200m), Michael Cochrane (400m), Ellen Schaef (600m) and Tom Moulai (800m) was followed by one of the Kiwi performances of the night by Joseph Millar.

Millar’s outstanding victory in the 150m in 15.29 over some top international sprinters, along with Zoe Hobbs third place in the women’s race put the Kiwi team at the top of the point’s table. Millar’s was the first of three Kiwi victories in Round 1, all from sprinters.

The lead didn’t last long despite the battling efforts in the three minute run. In this novel event the distance covered in three minutes by the first runner,

Esther Keown, marked the start point for the second runner, Tim Cornish. The total distance covered by the pair signified their performance and final placing.

Team Captain, Matt Wyatt, produced his best jump of 7.32m for a fifth placing but was unable to hit his bonus target of 7.40m which would have secured an extra 15 points.

The sprinters lead from the front once again with Kelsey Berryman flying from the blocks to win against a high quality field in the 60m. Her time of 7.46 was only 0.12 outside of the qualifying standard for the World Indoor Championships.

For Hamish Gill, the possible disappointment of his 6th placing in the 60m was tempered by the experience of running against former 100m World Record-holder, Asafa Powell.

The New Zealand team held third place, assisted by a very popular win for Will O’Neill in the Para 100m. O’Neill took advantage of his handicap start mark to power from the blocks with daylight second and the field trailing in his wake as he crossed the line arms extended and smile beaming.

Anna Grimaldi ran strongly from her scratch mark for an impressive third placing in the women’s 100m Para race.

There were to be no more wins for the Kiwi Nitro team on the night but the greatest excitement came from the way the two athletes ran the Mile elimination race. Best described as the equivalent of the cycling points race, one athlete was eliminated from the field at the completion of each of the first three laps to leave three athletes to battle to the finish. This resulted in a manic sprint each lap as the athletes charged down the straight in the desperate hope of avoiding being the last across the line.

Laura Nagel followed the pre-race tactics perfectly, going straight to the front at top pace and comfortably holding fourth across the line at the end of the first lap.

She followed the same tactic in lap two to again cross the elimination line in fourth again. Having achieved her goal against athletes with far superior personal best times Nagel cruised across the line to complete her race. The crowds appreciation of the efforts needed by the athletes in this lung-busting event meant the loudest volume of support in the night, bar Usain Bolt’s later relay appearance.

Ben Musson, from Christchurch, approached his challenge with a different tactical approach. He positioned himself in the one out-one back position so he could cover the end of lap surge.

Successful for lap one, his herculean effort on lap two secured fourth spot. His brave effort with 200m to go on lap three was thwarted by the fatigue of his earlier efforts but like Nagel he placed higher than his pre-race ranking.

Tori Peeters had a novel challenge in the Javelin, where competitors attempted to hit a sector spanning out from the 48m mark for bonus points. Despite having achieved this in warm up, the pressure of calculating to achieve it in competition proved too much so she had to be satisfied with her solid effort of 52.43 for fifth.

Katherine Camp can claim that she was leading former Olympic 400m Champion Christine Ohurougu for 30m of the first leg of the 2 x 300m relay but by the time she handed over to the teams iron-man, Joseph Millar, the team’s fourth place was well established. Millar was able to fight off the Japanese and Chinese competitors with arguably the fastest leg of the field.

Mackenzie Keenan was a mere 0.04s outside of her PB in the 100mH against a field including Aussie glamour-girl Michelle Jenneke, who cruised to a popular victory for the rapturous crowd.

The only disappointment for the brave NZ team was the inability to get the baton around in the mixed 4 x 100m relay. This deprived Hamish Gill of the chance to race against Usain Bolt down the back straight. Bolt will have to wait another day before he can truly claim dominance over the young Kiwi sprinter.

It was an exciting night for the sport of athletics at a packed Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne and the athletes and fans can’t wait for the next two rounds on Thursday and Saturday nights.