TEAM Isle of Wight's athletics squad feel they are on track for a medal haul at the Island Games 2023 in Guernsey.

The inter-Island competition runs from July 8-14, which will see the largest athletics team ever assembled travelling away from the Isle of Wight, numbering 30.

Joint-managed by Nick Groocock and Nicola Canning, the team will be supported by distance coach Paul Simpson, while athletes Holly Whitter and Holly Newton will be providing sports massage for the team when they are not competing.

Nick, whose first Island Games was as a competitor in Oland in 1991 — earning bronze in the 4x100m relay — describes the Games as "a wonderful experience".

He has been to the Island Games nine times — eight of them as athletics team manager.

Guernsey will be his tenth Island Games — believed to be a record for any Islander.

"What makes this one different is that we've never had a four-year break, because of Covid-19," he said.

"It has had some impact on the team — good and bad. What is clearly evident is that during the pandemic, a lot of people re-engaged with distance running, nationally.

"That is reflected in the numbers I had to select a team, from which we could do the half marathon, the 10km and 5km.

"It is quite clear, from the standard and numbers competing in those events, across the islands, is fantastic — and we're up there with the best.

"We've got a superb team of distance runners — and probably the strongest we've ever had.

"It's going to be difficult to win medals, but we think we'll be there, or thereabouts. We will be a team to watch.

"Everyone knows how good people are in the athletics community, but it's what you bring to the Games which is important, so it's going to be very, very interesting.

"However, in the technical events, because of lockdowns during Covid, such as hurdling, jumping and throwing, very small groups were allowed to train, therefore we lost two cohorts.   

"The numbers in the technical events in the Games are down.

"As an overarching view, it's as good as it has been, but a different dynamic and that will take its time to work its way through."

International discus thrower Nick Percy managed, for the first time, to find a date that did not clash with international duties, so will compete, then fly back out the next day to compete in the British Championships.

Percy will be up against Jersey's Zane Duqueman, who holds the Island Games record.

"Last year, he became one of the few athletes who will ever experience doing a World, European and Commonwealth Games all in the same year," said Groocock.

"He's a phenomenal athlete and an inspiration to the team."

Andy Frost, who lives and coaches in Sweden, will make the trip to try to win his title back of ten years ago in the hammer.

Frost was GB's number one hammer thrower for a number of years, including finishing fourth in two Commonwealth Games.

Dan Eckersley will be trying to win the steeplechase title for a third time — and is in good form going into the Games.

Team captain, Charlie Metcalfe, will be leading the charge in the women's half marathon again. She won gold last time in Gibraltar and silver in the team event.

Holly Newton is doing her first Games since 2011, where she won bronze in the 4x400m — reinventing herself as a half marathon runner.

Will Newnham has won Island Games medals before in steeplechase, with four Games under his belt — but this will be his first for some time.

A latecomer to the team is Matt Sharp, a former World Junior Triathlon Championships winner and international runner Henry McLuckie — the only Islander ever to beat the four-minute mile — will compete, depending on whether or not he qualifies for the European U23 Championships.

If selected for that, he will not be able to compete in the Games, but if he does make it, Henry will compete in the 1,500m and the 5,000m.

Archie Pearson will be the youngest in the team, aged 15, on June 1, the cut off date for him to qualify to compete in the 1,500m.

Chris Newnham, of Island band, The Plastic Mermaids, is a new member of the Island Games team, as well as Ellie Lovett in the discus and Wallis Canning in the hammer who will be hoping to go one better and take the title.

Tristan Cooper, who last competed for the Isle of Wight in Rhodes, will be 50 on the opening ceremony day and is the Island's fastest 10km runner at the moment — and one of the UK's best in his age group. 

"I'm cautiously optimistic about our chances. We got seven medals the last time in Gibraltar, so I think we will win medals again."

Regarding the Games experience, Groocock loves it.

"There's nothing like it. The only thing you could compare it to is the Commonwealth Games, which has the same feel and ethos — bringing together a family of now-connected islands," he said.

"Although we've got different cultures within the Island Games, we've grown this family network."

From the athletics squad, pictured are: Front, from left, Eden Canning, Holly Whitter, Freya Taylor, Maisey Kent, Archie Pearson and Matt Sharp. Back: Charlie Metcalfe, Holly Newton, Carly Scobe, Jacob Patey, Nick Groocock, Nicola and Wallis Canning, Noah Patey, Dan Eckersley, Emily Fry, Helen Davies and Christopher Newnham.