Internationals Attack Speight’s Coast to Coast
Internationals Attack Speight’s Coast to Coast
Thirty two years ago the inaugural Speight’s Coast to Coast had just three participants from outside of New Zealand. This year the 32nd edition of the world’s longest running multisport event features almost 100 internationals from 15 countries.
The winner of that inaugural Speight’s Coast to Coast was one of those three international entrants. In 1983 Scotland’s Dr Joe Sherriff surprised legendary Kiwi adventurer Graeme Dingle to win the epic 243k race across New Zealand’s South Island. Since then the event has attracted more than 1500 international entrants from 30 countries, including several international winners.
Scheduled this year for February 14 and 15 the 2014 race, which will mark the 25th year of the Speight’s sponsorship, currently has almost 600 entries.
“At the moment we have 90 international participants from 15 countries,” says race director Robin Judkins. “But there are still entries coming in every day!”
Entries this year have come from as far afield as Australia, Canada, Belgium, Brazil, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, USA and Wales and even the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe.
“The really impressive thing,” says Judkins, “is that among New Zealand regions only Canterbury has more entries than the internationals.”
The United Arab Emirates will be represented for the first time by Patrick Watson-Thorp, a Greymouth native who now lives in Dubai. The 38 year old lawyer had always wanted to take on the Speight’s Coast to Coast and can see the irony of having to travel across the world to line up in a race that used to be his own back yard.
Judkins, however, has been most impressed with entries from Great Britain, saying, “This is the biggest British entry we’ve ever had and it’s also the first time any other country has outdone Australia.”
Great Britain and Australia, with 35 and 33 entries respectively, are the best represented, while USA is next at 10. Thirty four year old Brit, James Nisbet, says he was conned into the Speight’s Coast to Coast by his Kiwi wife. Another interesting British entry will be veteran mixed martial arts fighter, Helena Smith, who will be racing in the Two Day team race with her husband James.
International entries also hold some dark horses in the feature One Day world title race. Like New Zealand’s own Richard Ussher, 25 year old Australian Alex Houghton mixes triathlon and multisport successfully, having won his age group in the 2012 Ironman Asia Pacific triathlon and the overall title in Victoria’s King Valley Challenge.
Other dark horses include Christchurch-based Brazilian Flavio Vianna, who finished 13th in his first attempt last year, and Swedish-based American Scott Cole, who has been training in Christchurch since November and recently won Greymouth’s Mountain Man Multisport Race.
The Speight’s Coast to Coast has been won by international athletes on four more occasions since Joe Sherriff inaugural 1983 race. Australian John Jacoby won in 1988 and 1989, followed by South African Rockley Montgomery in 1992, and then by Jacoby again in 1993.
In 1994 Scottish-born Keith Murray set a course record that still stands(10:34:37), but he was and still is living in Christchurch. Three years later Murray’s wife Andrea, an American but also based here, set the women’s race record (12:09:26, 1997).
Adopted Kiwi winners is a familiar theme at the Speight’s Coast to Coast. Emily Miazga was from Canada when she placed third in 2004, but never went home and after becoming a West Coaster went on to win three times (2006, 2008, 2009) and was also third on two other occasions (2005 and 2011).
Likewise, two-time winner, Elina Ussher, is from Finland but lives now in Nelson with husband and five-time champion Richard Ussher. Mrs Ussher first made an impact in 2006 when as Elina Maki-Rautila she finished second. She eventually won the race in 2010 and repeated in 2012, and Robin Judkins says the 37 year old is the favourite again for 2014.
“Elina has won the Speight’s Coast to Coast twice,” says Judkins, “but she also has five other top-five placings. So she’s super consistent and having raced here since 2006, she’s the most experienced woman too. That’s a hard combination to beat.”
Judkins takes personal pride in the development of these internationals-turned-Kiwis such as Ussher and Miazga, right back to Joe Sherriff, who now lives in Invercargill and will be racing the Speight’s Coast to Coast for the 12th time.
“These people and dozens of others came to New Zealand to do the Speight’s Coast to Coast and they liked our country so much they stayed. I think that sums up the prestige both of the event and New Zealand itself!”
For more info see: www.coasttocoast.co.nz