Breeding the next generation of athletics stars

Tuesday October 08, 2019 Written by Published in Other Sports
Ruth Mave, Athletics Cook Islands secretary, with athlete Tikove Piira in Doha, Qatar last week. 19100722 Ruth Mave, Athletics Cook Islands secretary, with athlete Tikove Piira in Doha, Qatar last week. 19100722

It was another stunning day in Rarotonga with the turnout of over 700 athletes representing nine primary schools at the Prince of Wales Athletics competition on Wednesday last week.


The air was electric, their passion for the day ahead and the events elating. To see our youth of tomorrow preparing to sweat it out on the track and field for the glory of their school could be an emotional moment.

With the introduction of full sponsorship from CITC, the Prince of Wales Athletics competition has become a stand out event. The athletes are the focus, and everyone worked hard to achieve the optimum environment so that the athletes from five to 12 years could compete to their best, and be looked after and rewarded for their efforts.

This athletics day, will be etched on the minds and hearts of all who competed and they will hope to do it again in their remaining primary school years.

I arrived home just hours before the primary schools meet had started following 30 hours travelling from Doha, Qatar where the World Athletics Championship is currently being held. I was there as coach/manager for our athlete Tikove Piira who competed in the 100 metres sprints. 

Piira is one of Athletics Cook Islands’ developing athletes and at 19 years, he has a bright future ahead of him. He started with the Youth Athletics Competition last year and went on to compete in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Competition 2018, Oceania Championship 2019, Pacific Games 2019, and then Doha Qatar for the Worlds.

The desert in Doha is unrelentingly hot this time of the year and Piira anticipated it would be hard to run in the heat after competing in Samoa. 

What we didn’t count on was the incredibly wealthy nation to provide a fully air conditioned stadium. 

The stadium with ten lanes, fully surrounded seating, and was a far cry from ours in Rarotonga. The starting blocks are electronically connected to sense any movement prior to the gun – a false start at this level and you are out of the competition. There are speakers behind each block so no matter how loud it is in the stadium, the athletes will hear the electronic gun.

In Rarotonga, it’s often necessary to have someone stand on the blocks when you start. Using cap guns is now almost impossible with rules on shipping explosives (the caps are made of gunpowder). Our new electronic gun with a speaker is nowhere loud enough amongst the cheering of the crowds and George George’s commentary.

Everything is electronic at elite level, the timing is started from the gun and the finish detected by laser beam and a photo finish on both sides.

As the chief timekeeper at the Prince of Wales senior track, our day was different. The clapper used to start a race has a black and white side when they come together – that is the cue for us to start our stopwatches. This has to be seen from a distance, 100m or across the field to the 200m. My eyes are not what they used to be so there is no time to blink as we wait for the starter.

This is probably the first year we haven’t had to wait for someone to remove the dog from the track.

The start of the 200m had us standing on the field, to see the starter around the marquee. As soon as the race started, we had to run to our positions at the finish line, around waiting athletes, first aid and the recording table. On the line, we all crouch or stand above each other with stopwatches in hand. Our photo finish iPad is held above our heads as our athletes’ storm towards us.

Almost everyone was new to “the state of art” timekeeping job, are now charged with getting the times right. It is a big responsibility and not one taken lightly, which the team met admirably.

At the World Athletics, results flash up in seconds recording immediately the placing, times and personal best, season best or national and world records. Meanwhile at Prince of Wales, we were sweating in the tent, calling out above the cheers and noise of kids and officials, holding sweaty fatigued athletes, so we can read their tags with name and details and calculate place and points. Then we send off a runner to cross the track, past the long jump pit, to the top table in the stadium stands to record the details.

The Worlds had 2000 athletes competing from over 200 countries. Athletics is one of the most global and popular with most active members of all ages, sport in the world. There are millions of dollars involved, prizemoney for a gold medal is $60,000 and for a world record is $100,000 plus sponsorship. There are events all over the world and with the introduction of universality whereby developing nations like ourselves are given an opportunity to send our best, is a dream come true for our youth and young adult athletes. 

It all starts here with the Prince of Wales Primary School Championship and for all those competitions held in the outer islands as well. Athletics Cook Islands now has a youth competition for secondary school athletes and there is a pathway for any budding athlete to travel to World Games and the Olympics.

We may not have the full technology of the World Games but in passion, in classy uniforms, in focus, concentration and desire to win and do their personal best, our young Prince of Wales athletes are no different from the famous and world known names in the sport.

-Ruth Mave (Athletics Cook Islands secretary)

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