Mackay-Wright flies to New Zealand Cross Country title

Here’s how you win your first New Zealand Cross Country title:
Fall down twice en route to a sixth place finish at the New Zealand Secondary School Championships. Take off a few days and then go skiing for a week over winter break. Fall down again and finish a distant second at the Tasman Centre Championships.
Then run the race or your life at nationals.
That’s what Sam MacKay-Wright did at Saturday’s New Zealand Cross Country Championships in Christchurch, and he did it in spectacular style.
Mackay-Wright  took control of the Youth Men’s 6km race on the final hill of the Halswell Quarry course and bolted away from his pursuers in the final 500m to win comfortably in 19min1sec. He finished three seconds ahead of Otago’s  Oli Chignell and six seconds ahead of teammate Jared Lautenslager to lead his Tasman team to a bronze medal.
“I just felt great the whole way,’’ Mackay-Wright said.  “As we approached the last hill the pace felt really slow and I thought, ‘I’m going for it.’’’
Only Chignell, Lautenslager, and Taranaki’s Angus White were able to go with him. But Mackay-Wright pushed it into another gear on a long stretch a half-kilometre from the finish and separated himself from his rivals.  Lautenslager easily pulled away from White and challenged Chignell in the homestraight before settling for the bronze. It was the first 1-3 finish for Tasman since Dallas Bowden and Harrison Dean accomplished that task in 2006.
Kalani Sheridan placed 22nd and Max Meffan 29th to finish off the Tasman scoring. The team had 51 points and finished one point behind runner-up Wellington for the second straight year. Canterbury won the title with 36 points.
Barry Dewar won the other gold medal for Athletics Nelson runners, taking out the men’s 65-69 age group in 32min23secs over the 8km race.
Nelson-area runners made strong bids for titles in several of the other races.
Craig Lautenslager was leading after the first four of the six 2km loops of the senior men’s 12km race but was unable to respond to Auckland’s Malcolm Hicks, who bolted up a long hill 3km from the finish line and cruised to his second New Zealand senior cross country title in 37min20secs. Craig finished his first-ever 12km race in fifth in 38min19sec,  and one spot ahead of defending champion Callan Moody of Canterbury.
Craig’s brother, Jeff, was leading the pack into the first 1.5km of the Junior Men’s 8km race when someone accidentally spiked the back of his heel.  Jeff stopped to put his shoe back on and lost 10 seconds. He quickly reeled in the pack and was in contention for the lead on the final lap before finishing third and winning his first national cross country medal in 25min40sec. Marcus Karamonlis of Wellington won the race in 25min24sec.
Paula Canning battled with former New Zealand Marathon and Mountain Running Champion Shireen Crumpton of Dunedin for the final half of the masters women’s 6km race. The two runners, who are in the 40-44 age group, were running second and third in the overall masters race.  Canning overcame a 20m deficit on the long homestretch and moved ahead in the final 50m only to watch Crumpton surge back to win the title. Canning finished in 23min28sec.
Eloise Beattie led out the girls 15 and under 3km race. She gamely held on for  half the race before her older rivals raced by.  Beattie, who won the girls 13 and under race last year, finished fourth in 10min52sec.
Bridie Edwards ran in the lead pack for much of the first half of the Youth Women’s 4km and finished sixth in 14min47sec .  Her Tasman team which also included Beth Versey in 15th, Sophie Smith in 19th, and Sami Jordan in 23rd finished fourth in the teams’ race.
Full results can be found at athleticsnelson.org.nz.  Race videos can be found on the Athletics Nelson YouTube website.