The Rio 2016 Paralympics witnessed a big resurgence in the New Zealand’s Para athletics programme with six athletes in the team returning with nine medals between them.
Five of the six medallists will be in action at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Hamilton this weekend.
Liam Malone, the undoubted star of the team in Rio, and winner of the Disabled Sportsperson of the Year at the Halberg Awards in February, will be missing while he deals with a frustrating leg injury, but the other seven Paralympians will be there, along with 16 other Para athletes.
The big increase in numbers is the result of significant progress being made in both numbers and quality of Para athletes under programme leader Raylene Bates from Dunedin.
Anna Grimaldi, Rio 2016 Paralympic Long Jump Gold medallist will be competing in the long jump and 200m in her T47 classification and also in the long jump and 100m in the open women’s grade. Guided by Otago coaching identity Brent Ward, and with a personal best of 5.62m set when winning gold in Rio, the 20 year old could get close to the medals in the open event as well as being overwhelming favourite in the Para event.
William Stedman was a revelation at Rio, coming away with two bronze medals in the T36 400m and 800m at the Paralympics at just 16 years of age. The Canterbury athlete, coached by George Edwards, is entered in the 200m, 400m, 800, and long jump events. As New Zealand record holder in all four events and Rio 2016 Paralympic medallist in two, he should be untroubled to come away with four titles.
Three experienced throwers will be in action in Hamilton, hoping to retain titles and hit big performances to help them qualify for the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships in London in July.
Holly Robinson’s recent personal best and New Zealand record in the javelin of 42.68m indicates the Rio 2016 silver medallist is in top form to lengthen her hold on the F46 title. The 22 year old who hails from the West Coast and now lives and trains in Dunedin, has also entered the open women’s event, giving her an extra chance to extend the record in an attempt to get to the number one world ranking ahead of the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships.
Likewise, men’s javelin Rio 2016 medallist Rory McSweeney has entered both his F44 event and the open men’s javelin, where he will come up against 16 times titleholder Stuart Farquhar and top-ranked Ben Langton-Burnell. The 31 year old Canterbury athlete has not had any throws this year approaching his personal best of 55.80m, but he too will be focused on the distances he will need to stay in the medals in London.
Jess Hamill won bronze in the F34 shot put in Rio and is entered in that event in Hamilton, along with the javelin. Representing Otago, the 26 year old has had a resurgence in the sport and is focused on another medal in London.
Other Rio 2016 athletes, 20 year olds Jacob Phillips from Hamilton is competing in the T37 100m and 200m and Caitlin Dore from Dunedin will contest the javelin.
Australian based sprinter Will O’Neill, a member of the New Zealand team in the recent Nitro Athletics series in Melbourne will be contesting his specialist events.
Other promising Para athletes competing in Hamilton include Ethan Rangi, Libby Leikas, Anna Steven, Sunil Fernandez-Ritchie, Aodhan Hamilton, Jack Lewer and Keelan Ward.
The Jennian Homes NZ Track & Field Championships with Hamilton City Council as a Principal Partner get under way at Hamilton’s Porritt Stadium on Friday 17 March and conclude on Sunday 19 March.