At the most recent New Zealand Secondary School Track and Field Championships in Tauranga in December 2020, Whanganui High School claimed five medals in the hurdles events, which at the time that was more hurdles than the school owned.
After turning heads in the wind and rain in Wellington in December 2019, the school had a great meet the following year, with more medals also won in the relays.
Whanganui High School had 14 hurdlers qualified and ready to compete in Inglewood last December as part of a 30 plus team, and a big 5-year reunion with current and past athletes was planned. Unfortunately, these were cancelled because of Covid.
One of those athletes, Maggie Jones, has returned to WHS this year for her last year at school and is one of Aotearoa’s most promising young women athletes, specialising in one of the toughest events on the track.
This past weekend at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Hastings, Maggie won her favoured race, the Women’s U20 400m hurdles. She was also second in the Women's U20 100m hurdles.
“My coach Greg gave me a game-plan and I stuck to it, which is what won me the race,” said Maggie, who won with a personal best 400m hurdles time of 64.34.
“I have raced the two girls who were either side of me a few times previously and both go out hard. So the race plan was to give them their faster starts and to relax and build into the race over the first 200-300m. I think I can kick quite well in races when people are ahead of me, so with about 150m to go I took off and overtook them and finished strongly.
“I was really happy to get a New Zealand title in my first year as a senior, as well as winning a major race going up a distance from the school race distance of 300m to 400m.
“I was also pleased to win silver in the 100m race the next day because we had a bunch of really good hurdlers in the field.”
The previous week she won a 100m hurdles race in Christchurch.
Maggie agrees that the 400m hurdles is one of the hardest track events . “I’m not a huge fan of running the 400m flat race, so adding some hurdles to jump over it is not a great combination!”
Nevertheless, she enjoys it and says that the longer race is what she is best suited to. “I’m not as powerful a sprinter, but it is good to be able to do both for technique and to get race experience.”
The North Island Secondary School Championships have been cancelled, but she is interested in starting heptathlon and is looking at competing at the 2022 New Zealand U18 And U20 Combined Events Championships on 26 March in Auckland.
Asked for a couple of highlights thus far in her career, Maggie said winning the Junior Girls 300m Hurdles at Wellington at the 2019 NZSS Nationals was memorable.
“That was my first big win, and I got to celebrate it with my two Whanganui High School teammates who were also in the race, with Paris Munro who came third and Casie Glentworth who was fourth. We also came second in the relays not long after.
“Also winning the NZSS Nationals 300m race in 2020 and winning last week’s U20 New Zealand 400m hurdles title were satisfying for me.”
Maggie also has a balanced sporting life, playing basketball and netball for her school in the winter and cricket in the summer as well as athletics.
Next year she is hoping to win an athletics scholarship in the USA, unsure exactly what she wants to study after high school, but the sciences interest her.
Maggie trains with a big group of athletes at the Whanganui High School Athletics Club, a competitive, supportive group, from year nines and beginners through to the seniors.
As well as Maggie, Nat Kirk is a leading Senior Boys hurdler at the school at the moment.
A big factor in the Whanganui High School Athletics Club’s success is the input of coach Greg Fromont, who started coaching at the school five and a half years ago. Greg’s part time role is to provide a fundamentals and conditioning pathway for all sports students.
With a background in athletics coaching but also in fundamental skills, a key mantra from the start was making sure all students have a basic grounding in movement skills, stability, flexibility and co-ordination.
Greg said having fun and fostering a welcoming, family atmosphere is important. “There must be more to the group than just their performance on the track,” Greg added.
“Students from other sports can come into the athletics conditioning and use it to prepare for their other sports. Hurdles is good because it’s a great example of all the fundamentals being put together in one event.
“We started with one athlete in the athletics group and now regularly have 40 at a training session.
“Our first two national champions both came to the training group to prepare for their winter sports of hockey, and within three years both had won NZSS titles over 400m and 1500m respectively while it was still their second sport. Rebecca Baker, the 1500m champion is now part of Hockey New Zealand’s High-Performance programme. Both still come back in the University holidays and help with coaching and are an inspiration for our young athletes.”
Interview and story by Steven White for College Sport Media, March 2022.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand