9 February, 2024
Track stars share rivalry and international goals
Friends and rivals… Thomas Cowan (left) pipping James Ford in the 800m at a
club meeting last year. Right: Despite competing hard on the track, Ford (left)
and Cowan remain good training mates.
Devonport athletes James Ford and Thomas Cowan have been burning up the running track over summer.
With qualifying times already under their belts to put them firmly in contention to represent New Zealand at the World Athletics U20 Championships, the two mates and rivals have reinforced their case with a string of impressive recent results.
The 18-year-olds – who went through Devonport Primary School together and live just blocks apart – finished at their different high schools last year, both being named in the New Zealand secondary schools track and field team at secondary nationals in Christchurch in December.
Ford, who went to King’s College, won the 400m and 800m double at the event, where he was named the male schools athlete of the year. Cowan, who went to Westlake Boys High School, took silver in the 800m, his preferred distance, though he too competes in both. “I have a little more speed and he has a little bit more strength, but we’re quite similar runners,” Ford says.
Their success won the duo the right to compete in the black singlet at two prestigious open meetings last month.
Ford, whose club is Takapuna, won the open 400m at the Cooks Classic in Whanganui, while an improving Cowan, who competes for North Harbour Bays, was third in a personal best. At the Potts classic in Hastings the weekend before, Cowan pipped Ford, taking second against all comers in the 800m.
This weekend, they will be back in action at the Porritt meet in Hamilton, before looking towards New Zealand nationals in March and the Australian champs in April.
They hope to don black together again at the world U20s in Peru in August. Ford has notched up U20 world qualifying times in both distances. Cowan has met the 800m standard. Two spots are available. “It depends if someone else runs quicker,” says Ford.
The pair played rippa and touch together at primary school, but diverged when Cowan went to Belmont Intermediate and Ford headed across the bridge for his schooling
“I always liked rugby more than running until my first year of high school,” Ford says.
At King’s – which has its own track – he switched focus. But rugby drew him back last year for a season on the wing for the first XV.
Later this year, he takes up a sports scholarship at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he will study engineering.
Cowan is still choosing between business studies in Auckland or taking up a US scholarship. Although he had always done well at athletics, it wasn’t until just over three years ago, when he came fifth in the 800m at secondary nationals for Westlake, that he decided to “do a bit more training”.
He can draw on advice from father Nick, who ran for New Zealand in the 400m at three world championships in the 1990s and mother Jo Harlick, a physiotherapist to the national team at the Athens Olympics.
In their last few years competing in open meetings, the local lads started lining up against each other in earnest. The friendly pair like to warm up together before races, which Cowan says is unusual between competitors in the same events. “We get along really well together. We’re good mates and often run together on Sunday, when it fits with our programmes.”
With friends, they loop up from Cheltenham to Seacliffe Ave, then along up Lake Rd and back to Devonport. Come competition days, they are the first to congratulate the other.
“We’re rivals but there’s no bad blood there,” says Ford.
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