A 26-strong New Zealand team spearheaded by in-form middle-distance star Sam Tanner is set to compete at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia on Saturday (February 18).
It features four athletes from Pakuranga Athletic Club who will compete in the U20 men’s event.
In a race commonly regarded as “the toughest endurance race in the world” the Silver Singlet team will seek to be competitive across all five events – senior men and women, U20 men and women and the mixed team relay – as they take on against some of the planet’s finest athletes.
New Zealand has a rich tradition in the event, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Rod Dixon has claimed two individual medals in the senior men’s race while New Zealand snared men’s team bronze at the inaugural edition in 1973 before two years later memorably claiming team gold in Rabat, Morocco.
The New Zealand women’s team also boasts a proud history and have snared four World Cross Country team medals, most recently in 1986.
John Bowden, the New Zealand team manager in Bathurst, is excited by the event which he believes will serve as a rich experience for all team members.
“The World Cross is a big step up for some of our athletes, but it also represents a great opportunity to grow and learn on that pathway to the next level,” said John.
“It remains one of the toughest events in world athletics because it includes everyone from some of the best middle-distance athletes to the top marathon runners, so we expect it to be fast and furious.
“We emphasise the team element, and in each grade we are looking for a top ten team position and for as many of our athletes as possible to individually finish in the top half of the field.”
The six-strong senior men’s team includes Matt Baxter, a former NCAA Cross country medallist who claimed a top 50 position at the last edition of the World Cross Country Championships staged in Aarhus, Denmark. The team also comprises reigning national 3000m and 10,000m champion Julian Oakley and former New Zealand Cross Country champion Oli Chignell – a sub-28-minute 10,000m performer.
Completing the team are reigning New Zealand cross country champion Matt Taylor and the minor medallists behind Taylor in Taupo last winter, Cameron Avery and Tim Robertson, the current world orienteering champion.
New Zealand also boast a six-strong team to compete in the U20 men’s event led by national U20 cross country champion Christian de Vaal who is one of four athletes competing from Pakuranga AC. De Vaal’s club-mates Ronan Codyre, Angus Monro and Jamie Mora will also take to the course in Bathurst alongside Matt Hill and Elliott Pugh.
Matt Baxter, the New Zealand men’s team captain in Bathurst, said: “We knew before the 2019 World Cross in Denmark this event would be coming to Australia, but after a couple of Covid cancellations I am finally looking forward to wearing my spikes for what will be huge competition so close to home.
“New Zealand has a strong history in the event and we hope to produce a performance of which we can be proud. I know from my time at college (in the US) the importance of being part of a team, it helped push and motivate me and I hope that to be the case on Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to my role as team captain and offering any advice to the other guys. We just hope to show that sending strong teams to a World Cross is something of real merit and we look forward to the challenge.”
Partner to Baxter, Emily Roughan, is team captain of the women’s team having also competed at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships. Roughan leads a six-strong senior women’s team, which also includes New Zealand cross country champion Lisa Cross and Hannah Miller, the national 10,000m, 10km (road), half marathon and marathon gold medallist.
Sarah Drought, the national 10,000m silver medallist also competes and the team is rounded out by New Zealand Cross Country Championships silver medallist Kerry White and three-time national 800m champion Katherine Camp.
National U20 cross country and U20 mile champion Boh Ritchie leads a four-strong junior women’s team which also includes New Zealand senior girls’ secondary schools 3000m gold medallist Bella Earl, Mackenzie Morgan and Catherine Lund.
Emily said: “We are very excited to finally compete here in Bathurst after the Covid delays. Unlike in Denmark, this time we will have a full (senior women’s) team to count, and we just hope to do as well as we can individually which will allow us to do as well as possible in the team competition.
“Having raced in Denmark, I know the depth and quality of a field at World Cross. The calibre is so high, but the girls are all up for the challenge and I’m sure we will all find it a memorable experience.”
New Zealand will also compete in the 4x2km Mixed Team relay which features Eric Speakman, Anneke Grogan and the recently minted New Zealand mile champions Rebekah
Greene and Sam Tanner of Athletics Tauranga. Tanner is in outstanding form and last Sunday moved to number two on the all-time New Zealand Indoor mile lists in New York, running a blistering 3:51.70 to place fourth in the Wanamaker Mile.
The 2km course is hilly and features a mudpit and sandy sections which will severely test the endurance of all competing athletes. Temperatures are also expected to be around 30C as the world’s finest endurance runners descend on the spiritual home of Australian motorsport at Mount Panorama.
The senior men and women compete over 10km, the U20 men over 8km and the U20 women over a 6km distance. The first four finishing athletes in each team will contribute to the overall team score.
Full entry lists here
Timetable and results here
All the action will be screened live on Sky Sport 9 on Saturday, February 18 from 5.20pm (NZ time).
Athletics NZ team for the 2023 World Cross Country Championships
Lisa Cross (TTT Runners) Coach – James Kuegler/John Bowden
Kerry White (Hamilton City Hawks) Coach – Maria Hassan
Hannah Miller (Wellington Scottish) Coach – Laura Bowerman
Sarah Drought (Wellington Harriers) Coach – John Bowden
Katherine Camp (University of Canterbury) Coach – Maria Hassan
Emily Roughan (Egmont Athletics) – Self-coached
Matthew Taylor (North Harbour Bays) Coach – Chris Pilone
Cameron Avery (Christchurch Avon) Coach – Chris Pilone
Tim Robertson (Hutt Valley Harriers) Coach – John Robertson
Oli Chignell (Hill City University) Coach – Chris Pilone
Matt Baxter (Egmont Athletics) Coach – Alan Culpepper
Julian Oakley (Athletics Tauranga) Coach – Craig Kirkwood
Boh Ritchie (Hamilton City Hawks) Coach – Angela Russek
Catherine Lund (Ariki AA) Coach – Rebekah Greene/Alan Moir
Bella Earl (Owairaka) Coach – Adrian Earl
Mackenzie Morgan (North Harbour Bays) – Coach – Paul Hamblyn
Christian de Vaal (Pakuranga AC) Coach – Nike Codyre
Ronan Codyre (Pakuranga AC) Coach – Nick Codyre
Matt Hill (Athletics Tauranga) Coach – Andrew Lloyd
Angus Monro (Pakuranga AC) Coach – Phil Clode
Jamie Mora (Pakuranga AC) Coach – Nick Codyre
Elliott Pugh (Athletics Tauranga ) Coach – Craig Kirkwood
Mixed Team Relay
Anneke Grogan (North Harbour Bays) Coach – Paul Hamblyn
Rebekah Greene (Hill City University) Coach – Craig Kirkwood
Sam Tanner (Athletics Tauranga) Coach – Craig Kirkwood
Eric Speakman (Napier Harriers) Coach – Steve Willis