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Irish Eyes Light Up Day 1 at Speight’s Coast to Coast

Irish Eyes Light Up Day 1 at Speight’s Coast to Coast

Athletes from Ireland shone brightest on day one of the 32nd Speight’s Coast to Coast multisport race today.

Almost 500 participants from 15 countries went to the start line on the West Coast’s Kumara Beach this morning for the traditional Two Day Speight’s Coast to Coast. Tomorrow more than 100 will toe the line again for the One Day World Championship race.

But this morning, standing amid drizzling rain with a grey Tasman Sea pounding onto Kumara Beach behind them, Irish athletes Joanna Williams and Fiona Dowling must have been wondering if they were back in the homeland. But some six hours later, they knew only too well that they were halfway through the famous 243k race across New Zealand’s South Island.

“There’s nothing like this at home,” said Dowling as she finished the first day at the head of the individual women’s race. “That run is awesome and the people in the race are just great.”

After running 3k, then cycling 55k and running 33k across Goat Pass to Klondyke Corner in the heart of Arthur’s Pass National Park, Dowling finished day one in ninth overall and 19min clear of Christchurch’s Hilary Totty, with another 10min back to Hollie Woodhouse also from Christchurch and Anna Jenkins from the UK.

Dowling, from Kilkenny, admits to being new at the multisport game. Apart from horse riding she wasn’t much into sport as a teenager and only took up multisport when she came to New Zealand for a short visit that somehow got extended to two years. To the point where the Wellington-based physiotherapist is taking in the Speight’s Coast to Coast midway through a shift South to Alexandra.

Dowling was four minutes behind Anna Jenkins after the cycle, but moved into the lead on the way to Goat Pass. But the tiny 27 year old admitted to struggling over the house-sized boulders on the famous Speight’s Coast to Coast run, laughing, “At one point another competitor had to give me a boost from behind to get over a boulder.”

With a West Coast south-wester bringing low cloud and solid drizzle, the cycle and run were slippery affairs and temperatures up the Deception River valley and over Goat Pass were in single digits. But once over the Pass, participants entered a new world with blue skies and a hefty following wind down the Mingha River valley to the Klondyke Corner finish line.

Another Irish physiotherapist enjoying the day was Wanaka-based Joanna Williams. The 39 year old won the women’s Two day race here in 2010 and returned as a team competitor this year. Her teammate James Roderick was third off the cycle section and Williams clocked the fastest female run at 3hrs 51min 14sec to put them in the lead among mixed teams.

Another happy finisher was Christchurch’s Brendon Vercoe, who finished seven minutes clear of fellow Cantabrian Byron Munroe and Methven’s Rob Nesbit. Vercoe admitted to being a tad surprised, saying, “I wouldn’t really call myself a feature athlete. But I was feeling good and I guess we’ll just have to see what happens tomorrow on the kayak and cycle.”

Vercoe said this with a shrug because two years ago he finished among the leaders after the first day but slumped to eighth after a horror paddle down the 67k kayak section. “But my paddling is going a lot better this year,” he said. “I tend to recover quite well, so hopefully I’ll have a good day.”

First to Klondyke Corner today, for the second consecutive year, was Nick Hirshfield from Hanmer Springs. The 38 year old IT consultant was competing in the new mountain run-only option, which he also won last year when it was introduced. Conditions this year meant he was 16min slower, this time clocking 3hrs 26min 32secs, but he was all smiles on the finish line.

Just behind Hirshfield came the leading team participants, Christchurch’s Robert Loveridge and Paul Massie, who are striving for a record third team win. In 32 years of the Speight’s Coast to Coast, seven duo’s have won the team title twice, but none have won three. Today Massie was second off the cycle and Loveridge sealed the deal with the second fastest run to give them a 13min lead. Massie is one of the sports leading kayakers, so it’s a lead they’re unlikely to lose.

“We’ve never led after the first before,” said a happy Loveridge after reaching Kondyke Corner. “It feels good to have a buffer and Paul always paddles well.”

Another person feeling good about finishing today was Christchurch farmer Pete King. Two years ago the 47 year old had a bad farm accident, breaking his fibia, tibia and crushing his ankle. Doctor’s said he’d never run again, which was a bit of a bugger for a guy who had competed in 10 Speight’s Coast to Coast events with his brother-in-law Ian Walsh. So it was a quietly pleased King who trotted across the line for the 11th time, and at the same time putting them into the lead among veteran teams.

Just as pleased with his day was 17 year old James Faulkner. The Temuka school boy finished seventh among the men’s individuals, but immediately turned to his support crew of Dad, Grand Sad and sisters to ask how his Mum and other sister were going. In a wonderfully family affair Mum, Simone, finished Day One first among veteran women while sister, Jessica, was 24th among women.

It’ll be all smiles again tomorrow with 25-degree day to greet finisher into Christchurch for the completion of the Two Day event and the feature One Day world title race.

The men’s world championship race is expected to be a rematch between 2013 winner Braden Currie (Wanaka) and five-time champion Richard Ussher (Nelson). Among women, Elina Ussher will be hoping to repeat her and Richard’s 2012 husband and wife double victory, but she faces New Zealand’s latest multisport sensation Jess Simson (Wanaka), who smashed the Two Day women’s record last year.

Forecasts predict light rain and a south-west wind for the start of the One Day race, then extremely low river levels for the 67k kayak down the Waimakariri River before a head win into Christchurch for the final 70k cycle to the Sumner Beach finish line. So despite warm weather in Christchurch, it is expected to be a race of attrition rather than speed, which might favour the experienced Ussher household.

This year celebrates the 32nd year of the world’s longest running multisport event and the 25th year of Speight’s as the head-line sponsor. For further race coverage and results see: www.coasttocoast.co.nz.


ends

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