Shot put stars Valerie Adams and Jacko Gill put on a clinic for the Christchurch crowd as international athletics made a welcome return to the earthquake-ravaged city.
Three-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist Adams exhorted the audience to get in behind her as she hefted the 4kg women’s shot out to 20.35m in the International Track Meet at Christ’s College.
Gill, the world junior champion, overcame a technical fault which saw him red-flagged three times, to finish with a flourish by biffing the 6kg shot 22.06m, the best effort in the open event.
There was also plenty of support last night for Beijing Olympics 1500m silver medallist Nick Willis as he ran a close second to training partner Will Leer (USA) in the men’s two-mile handicap race.
But it was the field events which captured the crowd’s attention.
Adams encouraged meet organisers to allow the fans to congregate in the middle of the arena, closer to the throwing circle, to engender more atmosphere and they began a round of rhythmic hand clapping at her behest.
“It’s really good to get [the crowd] this close and hopefully they can get them even closer next year,” Adams said. “It’s a start for track and field in New Zealand. Shot putting’s profile is getting higher and higher. It’s really good for us to have some good athletes because athletics isn’t regarded as a top sport here in New Zealand, so to speak.
“But with the Olympic Games coming up, hopefully it’ll get a bigger profile and everyone will be following it.”
Gill, 17, was also grateful for the crowd clapping him heartily as he recovered his poise after fouling his first, second and fourth throws.
A clearly frustrated Gill was involved in some protracted conversations with throwing circle officials after each red flag was raised.
“It was quite technical,” he said. “My foot was going around the rim but they thought it was touching.”
He would review the video, but it was only a small problem.
Gill also won the men’s discus with 60.44m well below his 62.05m New Zealand junior record but a commendable effort considering he rarely trains at the discipline.
The vociferous crowd could not quite get Willis over the line as he finished second to Leer in the two-mile, just as he did in the invitation mile at Whanganui’s Cook’s Gardens last weekend.
Willis thanked the Canterbury public for inspiring the rest of New Zealand with their courage through the quakes and paid tribute to Leer, who, he said, had donated $5000 through his sponsors to the Canterbury Earthquake Relief fund last year.
“It’s great to have such a great training partner to push me on for London. Hopefully, we can go one-two [in the Olympic Games 1500m final].”
Former Scotland champion Nick Smith, who immigrated to Auckland late last year, won the men’s 100m sprint in 11.80sec.
One of Canterbury’s most versatile athletes champion hurdler and Black Sticks hockey development squad member Fiona Morrison did the women’s 100m and 200m double.
Video of the competition: Here