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By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

AUCKLAND (16-Dec) -- The 2023/2024 New Zealand track season kicked off tonight with the Daikin Night of the 5'S at AUT Millennium Stadium here and Julian Oakley and Laura Nagel came away victorious.  Oakley, 30, successfully defended his title in the Blincoe Cup, the top section of the 5000m, clocking 13:47.75.  Nagel, 31, won the Elite Women's 5000m, coming from behind on the final lap and clocking 15:58.48.

Oakley, who represents Athletics Tauranga, had only one serious competitor tonight, Will Little of Whippets Auckland.  Little, 23, ran with the main pack during the early laps while Oakley ran with the pacemaker a few meters ahead.  But just after 2000 meters, the pacemaker dropped out and Oakley drifted back to the pack and the pace sagged to around 68 seconds per lap.  Oakley led through 3000m (8:20.79) with Little less than a second behind.

For the remaining laps, Oakley stayed on the front while Little ran directly in his shadow.  With two laps to go, Oakley dropped a 65.8-second lap, and Little matched it.  But upon hearing the bell, Oakley showed the speed that has made him a sub-4:00 miler for ten consecutive years.  He zipped through the final lap in 59.2 seconds and Little was unable to keep up.  

"Yeah, that was a good close," Oakley told Race Results Weekly.  He continued: "I closed well.  Not an amazing time, but I'm happy with that.  It's early in the season."

Little set a 17-second personal best in second place, clocking 13:50.04.

"It's good to see Will second," Oakley continued.  "He's been running really well."  He added: "Leading's never easy but I felt like I had something that last lap."

Oakley plans to run the New Zealand 10,000m championships next month in Dunedin.  The race will serve as an Athletics New Zealand qualifying event for the 2024 World Athletics Cross Country Championships.  Although he hasn't made up his mind, those championships are unlikely for him, Oakley said.

"I'm not sure that's on the agenda this year," Oakley explained.  "As tempting as Serbia in March is, it's quite a bit of a trip to go."

Nagel, who was teammates with Oakley at Providence College during her NCAA career, spent most of her race running well behind the early solo leader, Rebekah Greene.  Greene, 29, followed pacemaker Kimberley May through 3000m in about 9:16 before setting out on her own.  Nagel, who was about 22 seconds back, sensed that Greene would come back to her.  

"I just knew I had a wee bit left, and I've been able to do that: be behind the last lap then pick it up and close hard," Nagel told Race Results Weekly.

In the final 200 meters, Nagel swept past Greene to get the win and the exhausted Greene had to settle for second in 16:06.79.

"I knew I had it in me," Nagel said.  "I just hadn't seen it in training yet or any race I've had recently.  Yeah, it was good."

Tonight's race was not Nagel's season opener.  She ran 9:23.12 for 3000m in Melbourne on December 2 at the Zatopek 10, a performance that disappointed her.

"I raced a couple of weeks ago in Melbourne and it was awful," Nagel said, before bursting out laughing.

Also tonight, Olympic pole vaulter Eliza McCarthy cleared 4.73m to secure a 2024 Olympic qualifying mark, and Holly Manning won the top section of the women's 800m in 2:05.88.

"That's the fastest I've opened my season so I have to be happy with that," Manning said.