Black Stick steals limelight off Willis
It's not often Nick Willis gets upstaged at a track and field meeting in New Zealand.
But on Saturday, in Christchurch, Anita Punt did just that.
The Black Sticks forward, with a reputation for burning up hockey turfs, turned heads at Christ's College when she blazed to the lead in the women's 100m and 300m - on Upper - the college's pompous name for their sports field - confirming she's one of the fastest women on two legs in New Zealand.
Punt was invited to the International Track Meet by sponsor New Balance to add some novelty value but the Nelson-born Wellington resident won both her events and is now eyeing the national championships in March.
While her 100m time (12.61sec) was not especially fast, it was on grass and only a fraction slower than one of the men in the 100m final (won by Joseph Millar from Auckland in 11.22sec).
She recorded 39.6sec in the 300m dash, easing up with the race in the bag, suggesting she has a future in the longer sprints.
Her next sporting assignment is a low-key track meet in Hamilton on Saturday, before she heads away with the New Zealand hockey team for a tour of Argentina later this month.
"So that means if I run at the nationals I will have about one week to prepare while the other girls will have been building for it all year. But it is fun and I am enjoying it, so why not?"
Willis was comparatively pedestrian.
The Beijing Olympic silver medallist attempted to run under four minutes for the mile but conditions - a fresh easterly - put paid to those aspirations.
His time of 4min 8.1sec was slow, yet he still recorded his first victory at the meeting after a number of aborted attempts to compete in Christchurch and a couple of shock losses.
He later pleased the masses - about 3000 people came to watch him run - when he announced he would be back next year.
Event promoter Paul Coughlan said he was rapt with the turnout and other notable performances including a gripping 3000m race between New Zealand Olympian Lucy Van Dalen and Susan Kuijken (Netherlands).
Kuijken, based in Melbourne, kicked away from Van Dalen on the home straight.
"I spoke to Lucy and Nick yesterday and they said the atmosphere was amazing," he said. "But the performance of the day, for me, came from Tom Walsh."
The Timaru shot putter smashed his personal best by half a metre.Walsh hefted the 7.26kg shot 19.83m eclipsing Les Mills' old personal best, making Walsh New Zealand's second best thrower behind Jacko Gill (who has broken the 20 metre barrier).