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Coast to Coast - “The Year of The Woman”

February 13-14, 2009

“The Year of The Woman”

For 27 years the Speight’s Coast to Coast has led the way in adventure sports. This year the world’s longest running multisport event celebrates its 27th edition by celebrating the female multisporter.

Robin Judkins is excited. The Speight’s Coast to Coast race director can’t wait for 2009’s 27th anniversary event. His fervour for this next edition began brewing last February on Kumara Beach, when he sent 800 athletes from 21 countries off on the 26th edition of the 243k cycle, mountain run and kayak race across the South Island.

“We had 800 starters, which is our normal limit. But we had our biggest ever female entry. Two hundred women! It was brilliant and I thought then, ‘2009’s Speight’s Coast to Coast is going to be The Year of the Woman.’”

Scheduled for February 13 and 14, the 27th edition of the world’s premier multisport race has been dubbed, “The Year of the Woman”. It’s a fitting tribute too, because in 2008 the Speight’s Coast to Coast not only had the biggest female entry ever, but the race for the One Day women’s world title also produced the closest ever competition for line honours.

Indeed, the race for women’s honours in 2009 could add even more interest to the Speight’s Coast to Coast’s “Year of the Woman”. 2008 saw the previous two world champions, Fleur Pawsey (2007) and Emily Miazga (2006) go head to head in a see-sawing battle that ended with Miazga triumphant by just 43secs after 13 hours of racing. But 2009 could be even closer.

Defending champion Emily Miazga is thus far unsure if she’ll compete, and if she doesn’t this would leave the women’s world title race wide open.

The world champion has suffered the duel challenges of business and illness since winning her second title last February.

“This year has been incredibly busy for me,” she said recently from her home in Granity on the South Island’s West Coast. The Canadian-born athlete operates a cookie and energy bar company labelled Em’s Power Cookies.

“We launched a new range of bars this year, and at the same time sales for the traditional Em’s Power Cookie have lifted significantly, so my training has been second-string to business this year.

Despite this Miazga did manage to put enough training together to finish a strong second place in October’s Bay Trust Motu Challenge behind Finnish star Elina Ussher and just ahead of Opotiki’s Sophie Hart, both of whom are expected to feature in the 2009 Speight’s Coast to Coast.

“I was quite pleased with that given my limited training, “ said Miazga.

But a recent bout of pneumonia has set her back further and the defending champion says, “At this point I really don’t know if I’ll be doing the Speight’s Coast to Coast. I would love to go for a third title, but I’ll only line up if I think I can win it.”

A third world title in 2009 would put Miazga in impressive company. Only endurance sport legends Kathy Lynch and Jill Westenra have won more, with Lynch winning five world titles (1991-94 & 1996), and Westenra winning four consecutive years (2000-03).

But even if Miazga is fighting fit for February 14’s One Day World Championship, she will need another outstanding effort to tumble the ever-increasing standard at the top end of women’s multisport.

Speight’s Coast to Coast race director Robin Judkins says the ever-increasing female participation has also produced a corresponding increase in the number of women capable of contending for the women’s world title crown.

Indeed, between 2000 and 2003, when Wellington’s Jill Westenra dominated the race, her winning margins varied between 21min and one hour, and the spread across the top 10 female finishers averaged two and a half hours. But in recent years the women’s fields have become significantly more competitive.

In 2005 adventure racing star Kristina Anglem became the first woman to finish among the top 10 men, and in 2006 Miazga won her first Speight’s Coast to Coast by just two minutes from Elina Ussher while the first 11 women were separated by just 45min. This year saw a similar spread, with Miazga passing Cantabrian Fleur Pawsey in the final three kilometres to win her second title.

All this is a far cry from humble beginnings for the female multisporter. “In the very first Coast to Coast, in 1983, we had only four women in the Two Day Individual section and no women in the teams,” explains Judkins.

“In 1987, when we introduced the One Day world title race, the only woman was Stella Sweeney. But the next year we didn’t actually get any female entries for the One Day and I had to beg Denise Higgison from Tauranga to do it. I remember on the start line at Kumara beach, she was mortified that she was the only woman in the race, and I was terrified that she might not finish. But she did it.”

Higgison actually finished last of the 58 One Day finishers in 1988, recording a time of 17hrs 22min 08secs. But like so many before and since she was hooked and returned the following year to slash a massive 2hrs 22min from that debut. But this placed her just third, 49min behind winner Claire Parkes from Nelson and Cromwell’s Penny Webster.

Women had finally discovered the Speight’s Coast to Coast. 1988 saw a record 39 female starters across the three sections, and entries have increased every year since to 77 for 1992’s 10th anniversary event, and 100 for the first time in 1995. 2002’s 20th anniversary saw 192 female starters, and 2007’s 25th anniversary had 193. But 2008 was special.

“In 2008 we had a record 200 women out of 800 total entries,” says Judkins. “It was the first time that women have made up 25 percent of the field, which is a huge milestone that deserved to be recognised, so we’re dedicating the 2009 Speight’s Coast to Coast to “The Year of the Woman”.

ENDS

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