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New Zealand’s oldest athletics club celebrates 150 years

South Canterbury Amateur Athletics Club's 150th celebrations took place on Saturday, a year after meeting the milestone due to Covid-19 disruptions.

JOHN BISSET / Stuff

South Canterbury Amateur Athletics Club’s 150th celebrations took place on Saturday, a year after meeting the milestone due to Covid-19 disruptions.

The country’s oldest athletic club enjoyed a knees-up on Saturday, celebrating its 150th anniversary in style, with an athletics themed cake, a variety of activities, reminiscing and some famous faces.

South Canterbury Amateur Athletics Club’s 150th celebrations were set for Labor Weekend 2021, but were postponed to 2022 due to Covid-19 related issuesmaking this year their 151st anniversary.

Taking their lead from a club program from 1872activities were based on athletics events that would have taken place 150 years ago, with imperial measurements, jumping events, and throwing events such as a stone throw and cricket ball throw.

President Grant Lord said there was “a really neat atmosphere” at the celebrations.

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“All the athletes, and some of the parents, got into the activities,” he said.

“We also had athletes from yesteryear running on the track and recalling what they did on the grass track.”

SCAA members New Zealand women’s heptathlon champion Christina Ryan, and Olympians Lauren Bruce and Tom Walsh were all in attendance.

“They spent quite a bit of time with the kids, and the kids appreciated that. There were photos getting taken left, right and center.

SCAAC members Ethan Hole and Charlotte Blake cutting the 150th anniversary cake at Saturday's event.

JOHN BISSET / Stuff

SCAAC members Ethan Hole and Charlotte Blake cutting the 150th anniversary cake at Saturday’s event.

“They took part in some of the events with the young people. Christina and Lauren took part in the hurdles races and a one-mile relay, Tom took part in the tennis ball throw. “

Lord wouldn’t disclose if the world-class competitors blitzed the field in the 150-year-old events.

“It was about competing, about getting out there on the park and just celebrating, and doing something we wouldn’t normally do.”

A custom cake decorated with the club’s 400-meter track and banner also featured.

Rearing to take part in the stone throw event at the South Canterbury Athletics Club 150th anniversary event are Olympic medalist Tom Walsh, South Canterbury Athletics Club Vice President Mike Bunckenburg, Olympian Lauren Bruce and heptathlon champ Christina Ryan.

JOHN BISSET / Stuff

Rearing to take part in the stone throw event at the South Canterbury Athletics Club 150th anniversary event are Olympic medalist Tom Walsh, South Canterbury Athletics Club Vice President Mike Bunckenburg, Olympian Lauren Bruce and heptathlon champ Christina Ryan.

Lord said a highlight was the presentation room which featured collections of trophies and memorabilia “from last century and the one before, scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, Tom brought his collection including his Halberg award, a Colgate collection and others.”

A meal on Saturday at Benny’s Again was well attended, with former Timaru Boys’ High School rector Kevin O’Sullivan putting questions to Tom Walsh and Lauren Bruce, he said.

Lord said the club’s position as the oldest in the country isn’t front and center most of the time, but the history and evolution of the club is clear.

“You don’t really think about it until you do the research, and then you can see how athletics has evolved from a man’s club essentially, to an all-inclusive club that everyone can afford to join.”

Olympians Lauren Bruce and Tom Walsh at the South Canterbury Athletics Club's 150th celebrations.

JOHN BISSET / Stuff

Olympians Lauren Bruce and Tom Walsh at the South Canterbury Athletics Club’s 150th celebrations.

He said the club caters for all ages, with a “substantial part” of the club’s members 16 years and under, “but we go right up to adults like Tom and Lauren obviously, and masters athlete Wayne Doyle.”

Lord said in the three decades he’d been involved there had been a drop-off in young people getting involved in sports in general.

“At the same time, all the clubs – basketball, hockey, soccer, rugby, mountain biking etcetera – are providing opportunities for kids to do anything they want.”

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