The Oceania Cross Country Championships 2016 and the Athletics New Zealand Cross Country Championships were held on 7th August 2016 at the Domain in the middle of Auckland, New Zealand. With over 500 entries the Championships were promising to be a crowded and exciting event. Many high class athletes from New Zealand competed alongside Oceania’s best runners from Australia, Fiji, Guam, Palau, Tahiti and Tonga.

The competition started in the morning with the Under 11 race over 2km (1 lap). Even though the weather was beautiful and sunny on Sunday, the past days of rain had softened the ground, which made it very heavy underfoot. However, we saw a number of great performances in the U11, U13 and U15, which indicates a great future for distance running in New Zealand.

The first competitors that have flown in from the Oceania region raced in the U20 Women’s and U20 Men’s. For both, Genina Criss from Guam and Tae Hyun Kim from Palau, it was their first big trip overseas for competition and they were struggling with the conditions, especially the cold weather. Still we were glad to have them both competing in Auckland and hope they have gained good experience and are inspired and motivated for future training and competitions.

The Senior Women’s race over 10km started with strong runners from New Zealand as well as Karinna Fyfe from Australia and Elodie Menou from French Polynesia. Two women separated quickly from the rest: Laura Nagel and Rosa Flanagan. Laura won in a time of 38:08 minutes before Rosa crossed the line stopping the clock at 38:28min. Laura has been training in the United States for the last 6 years while she was studying and just got back to New Zealand in June this year. “I haven’t done any Cross Country in the last 2 years, but I knew I was fit, so I was just going to see how it goes.” It obviously went very well for her, Congratulations!

Rosa’s specialty event is the 3000m steeplechase, but after the race we saw on Sunday there is definitely potential for the longer distances, too.
A fight for the bronze medal had started from lap two onwards between Karinna Fyfe (AUS) and Nicole Mitchell (NZL). Swapping positions for most of the race, Nicole seemed to get rid of her follower at the start of the 5th lap when she got a 20-30m gap between them. The lead wasn’t lasting long when Karinna started a strong attack at the last up slope and left Nicole behind. Karinna finished in 3rd place 20 seconds before Nicole crossed the finish line. What an exciting race to watch.

The Senior Men’s race promised to be a fast one with the New Zealand National Champion (Mountain Running) Jonathan Jackson and the defending Oceania Champion Nicholas Wightman from Australia. As expected Jonathan and Nicholas were leading together with Daniel Balchin. With only 1000m to go before the finish Nicholas got ahead of the two kiwis “to avoid a muddy sprint finish” as he said after the race. “Jonathan has a good sprint finish and he is good in the mud, so I wanted to get away.” Nicholas is the first athlete to defend his title at the Oceania Cross Country Championships and with that kept a long tradition with the Senior Men’s title always going to Australia. Nicholas is now focusing on the Australian Cross Country Championships in Canberra, where he will go into as the favourite. “I have come second the last two years at Aussie Nationals, so I really want to win one.” The Oceania title is a huge confidence boost for me and going for gold on the 20th August in Canberra.

A big thank you must go to Athletics New Zealand who hosted the Championships.

Congratulations to all athletes on some great performances and fast times!

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