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Nagel And Speakman Provided A Thrilling Climax To The Red Stag Rotorua Marathon

Laura Nagel (Photo supplied)
Eric Speakman (Photo supplied)

Under the stars and lights at Rotorua International Airport Laura Nagel and Eric Speakman were confirmed as the inaugural New Zealand 5km Road Championships victors on a thrilling night of as part of the Runway5.

In the final event on the 60th anniversary Red Stag Rotorua Marathon, the Runway5 proved an overwhelming success as elite athletes and recreational participants fully embraced the innovative concept.

The elite women’s race served up the same medal order as the previous night at the Novotel Waterfront Mile as Laura Nagel secured a second national title in 24 hours completing the 5km distance in 16:14 – four seconds clear of her North Harbour Bays team-mate Brigid Dennehy.

For a second successive night Rebekah Aitkenhead (Hill City) the national track 1500m and mile champion secured bronze, stopping he clock in 16:29.

With the event forming the climax of the programme it was 2023 national 10,000m champion Katharine Camp who took the early pace stretching the field across the first 2km until a group of four – Nagel, Dennehy and Aitkenhead and masters superstar Lisa Cross – reeled in the early leader.

A confident Nagel then turned up the heat on the opposition with training partner Dennehy matching the national road mile champion as the pair served up an absorbing head to head showdown.

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However, in the final 200m Nagel slowly stretched the invisible bungee cord to kick clear to a decisive victory. Cross continues to defy the sands of time as the W40-44 placed the leading masters athlete in fourth overall, registering a blistering 16:37

An elated Nagel said: “I’m really happy with that one. It was a slightly different tactic (to the Road Mile Championships), I knew I was fit and I could push it, which is what I did!

“I kept it pretty honest and I’m really happy with mindset in that race.

“It was a very good weekend, it is never guaranteed, Brigid pushed me pretty hard and there was a lot of good banter. I wouldn’t have it any other way!”

In the men’s senior race, Eric Speakman finally laid the hoodoo of a streak of 12 national silver and bronze medals to claim his first New Zealand title since taking 1500m gold in 2017.

Ravaged by injury during the summer track and field campaign, Speakman, under the guidance of a new coach in Craig Kirkwood, produced a devastating late burst of speed to kick clear of national 5000m track William Little and clinch a three-second win in a handy 14:19.

Benjamin Wall completed an outstanding 24 hours to add national road 5km bronze after claiming national road mile gold the previous day. Wall (Feilding Moa) stopped the clock in 14:49 – one second clear of George Wyllie, the national U18 champion. The 16-year-old Athletics Tauranga athlete produced a dream two days of competition having claimed the New Zealand road mile U20 title the previous day.

Elsewhere, club-mate Callum Murray added the national U20 5km road title in 14:52 to the national road mile silver he snared as part of the Novotel Lakefront Mile.

Speakman, who exuberantly celebrated his win, said: “I was pleased to be back running again after missing the summer season injured (with plantar fasciitis and Achilles injuries) and fighting just to get back running again at track nationals. I’m very happy to out there putting down a performance and to finally win a national senior title after seven years.

“It has been a long time between drinks and I am not getting any younger. I have a new coach in Craig Kirkwood and we are starting to see the fruits of that. Hopefully I can prolong my career a bit more.

“It was a ding-dong battle between William and I. I surged slightly and then William responded until we got to the last bend and I finally cracked it. Will is a lot younger than me but we both grew up in the Hawke’s Bay, so it was great having a good battle for a national title.

“Runway5 is an awesome concept, really cool. If it grows I would be great to get some people put on the course to be able to watch and cheer.”

Local athlete Sjors Corporaal (Lake City) was the leading masters the M45-49 athlete logging a swift 15:54 for 19th overall.

In the women’s age divisions Scarlett Robb (Auckland City) finished seventh overall to claim a convincing victory in the U18 division, registering 17:28 – eight seconds clear of Eleanor Pugh (Athletics Tauranga).

Charo Heijnen of Athletics Tauranga was the lead U20 athlete finishing tenth overall to place nine seconds clear of national road mile 20 champion Poppy Martin (Lake City) in 17:41.

Earlier, almost 150 participants tasted the wonder and uniqueness of running the Rotorua International Airport runway at night as part of the People’s Mile.

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