Academy women overcome huge deficit to snare NZ Road Relay title

By Greg Lautenslager

Teams with the youngest and oldest runners captured titles for Athletics Nelson at Saturday’s New Zealand Road Relay Championships in Christchurch.
The junior women’s team with an average age of 15 and led-off by 12-year-old Eloise Beattie and the Men’s 60’s team with an average age of 64 came from behind on the final half to win the 40.7km races from Allandale to Cooptown .
The quote “It ain’t over till it’s over” from the recently deceased Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra and printed by the Athletics Nelson coach on his athletes’ itineraries was a foreshadowing for the junior women. Defending champion Auckland City Athletics thought it was over after a forging a 4min15sec-lead on the first three of the six legs despite solid legs from Beattie, Hunta Sutherland, and Sami Jordan.
Fifth leg runner Sophie Smith said as Jordan approached the finish of her 10km leg, “If we all work together as a team, we can do this. “
Smith waited for Bridie Edwards to cut the lead in half on her 9.4km leg and then went to work for her team.
She hacked the lead to 1min30secs as her coach spurred her on 3km into her 6.5km leg. The coach drove to the exchange zone to alert anchor leg runner Beth Versey that she would likely trail by 45 seconds when Smith handed her the baton.
Instead, Versey was ahead by 45 seconds.
“You must have crushed that last 3k,” the coach said to Smith.
Smith replied, “I was working hard the whole way.”
Auckland never got closer as Versey increased the lead on her 4.1km leg to 69 seconds by the finish line in the overall time of 2hrs46min0sec. University of Canterbury was third in 2hr51min30sec.
It was Athletics Nelson’s first victory in the junior women’s race since 2011. Their junior men’s teams won in 2006 and 2008.
Athletics Nelson’s 60 and over team’s three-year victory streak was in danger earlier in the week when team captain Derek Shaw struggled to find a replacement for the injured Rob Taylor. He discovered Steve Salt at the South Island Masters Games 10km in Nelson on Sunday and talked him into running their final leg.

Nelson led Auckland University by two minutes after the opening legs from Hans Andersen and Shaw. Auckland University’s masters phenom Graham Macky took over the lead from Mike Morrissey on leg three, but Ian Carter regained it on leg four.   Barry Dewar and Salt increased the lead en route to the finish in 2hrs51min4seconds, almost two minutes ahead of runner-up Athletics Tauranga. Auckland was third in 2hrs54min41sec.
Athletics Nelson’s chances of winning the overall team competition vanished on the second leg of the 50-59 relay when Robbie Barnes, who had been battling for the lead, collapsed on the second leg of the 70.6kmrace from Takahe to Akaroa. It took five minutes before the team arrived and had another runner finish his leg, which incurred a seven-minute penalty. Nelson finished fourth in 5hrs29min29sec.
Athletics Nelson’s junior men’s team finished fourth for the fourth time in five years. The team of Max Meffan, Kalani Sheridan, Jared Lautenslager, Sam Mackay-Wright, William Wallace, and Nick Matthews finished in 2hr23min46sec. They averaged 16 years of age in the U20 competition.