On February 22, 2011, the city of Christchurch was hit by an earthquake that punched up like a giant fist through the surface of the earth, directly under the city’s central business district. Many buildings and homes were destroyed or seriously damaged, and nearly 200 people were killed, including a leading running coach and administrator, Brian Taylor. Among the many wrecked facilities was Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, whose fabled track had been scene of the 1974 Commonwealth Games, 1975 New Zealand Games, 1981 World Masters Championships, 2011 Paralympic World Athletics Championships, and other major athletics events. With no track, a severely damaged city infrastructure, and the community in shock, the International Track Meet, scheduled four days later, was cancelled. A successful meet was held in Wellington, raising $20,000 for Christchurch relief. Nick Willis’s 2008 Olympic silver medal was formally presented to him there, instead of at the Christchurch meet as planned.
Nothing will obviate the losses of that disaster, but Christchurch and New Zealand have begun to heal, and sport is making its usual major contribution to that process. In that spirit of healing, we have done some imagining. Part of the frustration of the quake was that the ITM was shaping up so well. What if the quake had not happened and the Track Meet had? What new marks would Christchurch have celebrated making in athletics history that February night in 2011?
Silver lining for Willis
What a curtain raiser! The 10,000 plus strong crowd poured into QEII to make sure they didn’t miss the first-ever presentation of an Olympic medal on New Zealand soil. They were bubbling with high spirits and had lumps in their throats as Nick Willis received his 2008 Olympic 1500m silver, upgraded (after a disqualification) from the bronze he received in Beijing. With the legendary Sir John Walker making the presentation, it was double jubilation.