A patient race and a determined kick up the home straight gave Whanganui Collegiate’s Liam Back the 2019 Senior Boys 1500m title at a wet and wild Newtown Park in Wellington on Sunday in the NZSSA Track and Field Championships.
For the second consecutive year, the Senior Boys winner of the blue ribbon 1500m was also the current NZSS Cross Country champion, after Bethlehem College’s Sam Tanner won the title in 2018.
Sunday’s win was anything but plain sailing for Back, who reeled in former school teammate and now Te Kura athlete Will Sinclair with about 30 metres to run and then held off fast-finishing King’s College runner and Saturday’s Senior Boys 3000m winner Zane Powell to win at the tape.
Back was elated to win, after coming second to King’s College’s James Harding in the final of the 800m.
“It was a tough race earlier in the day in the 800m, so to come through with a couple of good laps really set it up for a good sprint finish and I just managed to beat my training partner Will Sinclair in the final few metres," he said.
Back ran the perfect 1500m race, sitting in just behind the leaders for most of the race, who included at various stages Timaru Boys’ High School’s George Guerin, St Peter’s School’s James Corbett and Powell and Burnside High School’s Daniel Roswell.
“I had to run that race like that – I ended up burning up in the 800m, so I knew that I had to leave it right to the end to come through. So I was really sitting in there and being patient, which was my game plan.”
Luckily Back avoided high drama at the start of the bell lap, with then race leader James Corbett taking a fall on the inside of the track and crashing into a Sky Television cameraman (right).
Unfortunately for Corbett, his race was done, while the cameraman was back at his lens to record the final lap unfold.
Was Back aware of what happened? “No, I was still hanging back at that point, but I saw the cameraman fall over and it was all on. I got clipped and it got a bit ugly at that point – I went out three lanes and just tried to get clear.”
In difficult conditions, Back’s winning time was 4:04.92, second placed Powell’s was 4:04.98 and third placed Sinclair’s was 4:05.10. The meet record in this race is 3:46.92, set by St John’s Hastings runner Richard Potts in 1989.
Of note, Back’s Whanganui Collegiate teammate Sophie Williams lowered the oldest meeting record of the meet in Saturday’s Junior Girls quarter-finals. Kaitaia College’s Myra Matkovich had run 11.88s in 1973, with Williams setting a new mark 46 years later of 11.86s.
Back was philosophical about coming second in the 800m final, a couple of hours before the 1500m decider. “I got chewed up in the last 30 metres.”
“I will be honest, I was trying to get the double. The last person to do that was Nick Willis.”
This was Back’s second NZSSA track title, winning the Junior 1500m two years ago in Hastings, and winning the NZSS Cross Country title in June this year.
He won this year’s cross country race with similar tactics, sitting second throughout most of the race behind Scots College’s Will Anthony and then taking the race-winning lead with about 150m to go. “That was a tough battle, that was a hilly course down in Timaru.”
What happens now for Back? “From now until next August I am just working and training in New Zealand before I head over the United States to Providence University.”
He is hoping to run all through summer. “I hope to do the Classic meets and then on to Nationals in Christchurch.”
Back is coached by Whanganui Collegiate’s Alec McNab, but has assistance from different people as well.
Below: Liam Back wins the Senior Boys 1500m race.
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