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The International Track Meet announced today that the annual $250 Development Grants - awarded for meritorious performance by developing athletes - have been presented to 800m runners Brad Mathas and Angela Smit. Both athletes were rewarded for strong front-running performances with convincing wins in two of the headline events at the meet, held on Feb 4th on grass at Christ’s College, in the centre of the earthquake ravaged city. Strong wind conditions slowed the winning times, but both athletes dominated their respective races to record impressive victories in front of an enthusiastic crowd of over 3000 people in the packed college grounds.
The Nick Willis Development Grant has been awarded annually since the meet began in 2009, and the inaugural winner Brendon Blacklaws of Wellington has gone on to success on the university circuit in the USA, at Willis’ own alma mater in Michigan. The 2010 winner, Daniel Balchin of Otago, competed against Willis and the other international stars in the New Balance Invitation 2-Mile Handicap race at the meet this year. Olympic silver medallist Willis, a driving force behind the inception of the meet itself following his medal success at Beijing in 2008, has always seen this award as an integral part of the development pathway for young athletes provided by the meet.
Mathas, the current NZ Secondary Schools champion and winner of the Kalamazoo Men’s 800m, cut a powerful figure charging up the home straight into the strong wind, so much so that he was compared by the commentators of the race to the great Sir Peter Snell – especially fitting as the race was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Snell’s world record, also set on grass at what was then Lancaster Park in 1962. Willis said today “Brad is a big strong lad who runs very aggressively, and was a worthy winner of the Development Award”. Mathas, who hails from Wanganui, had also acted as pacemaker the previous week when he helped Willis and four others to run a sub-four minute mile on his home track at Cooks Gardens.
The Brian Taylor Development Grant is a new award this year, created as a permanent annual tribute to the memory of Christchurch coach and administrator Brian Taylor, who lost his life in the February 2011 earthquake, which also caused the cancellation of the 2011 International Track Meet. Taylor was perhaps best known in coaching terms for his work with female athletes, many of whom competed in the 2012 meet in either the BNZ Partners Women’s 800m won by Smit, or in the Memorial 3000m event also carrying Taylor’s name, that honoured all victims of the February quake.
Smit’s performance stood out as one that was most worthy of additional recognition beyond the awards presented for placing in the respective events. Taylor’s wife, and a trustee of the Brian Taylor Memorial Fund, Prue Taylor, said “Angie Smit’s run was most impressive, and this award is just the sort of thing Brian would have loved to see happen – it is directly in line with the Trust we have set up in his memory.” The Brian Taylor Memorial Fund has been created to raise funds specifically for the purpose of supporting student athletes in New Zealand.
Event organisers were delighted to be able to announce Smit and Mathas as recipients of these awards, and hope to see them use this as a springboard to further success. “Development of New Zealand’s next wave of stars is a huge part of what this meet and the charitable trust that owns it are all about” said trustee Paul Coughlan