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Wanaka Winners Usher In A New Era

Wanaka Winners Usher In A New Era

A year ago New Zealand’s famous Speight’s Coast to Coast multisport race was turned upside down when Wanaka’s Braden Currie upset five time winner Richard Ussher with a brash catch-me-if-you-can strategy that robbed Ussher of a sixth title. A year later you wouldn’t think the same tactic could work against one of the best multisporters the world has ever seen. But when the gun fired at 6am on Kumara Beach this morning, Braden Currie executed exactly the same strategy, except faster!

Fine and mild conditions greeted the 120 entrants from eight countries as they lined up on the West Coast’s Kumara Beach for the One Day World Championship event. With a brisk south-west wind behind them, racing got off to a torrid start.

On the opening 3k run from the beach to road bikes, 10 men established a lead that would shape the race to come. On the 55k cycle they shared a torrid pace, opening up six minutes on anyone else and missing the record for that section by less than a minute. But after that it was all Braden Currie.

Swapping bikes for running shoes, Currie literally sprinted out of transition before anyone else had tied their shoes. In 10min he established a 1min lead and in one hour it had turned into 6min and after 2hrs, as he crested Goat Pass, had 13min over Ussher.

After 2hrs 49min of running, Currie swapped shoes for bike again with a 21min lead. But rather than Ussher leading the chase it was another young gun in 22 year old Wairoa athlete Sam Manson, followed closely by Ussher and Glen Currie, the older brother of the race leader.

Once in the water Ussher, who is considered the stronger kayaker, gave chase, moving back into second and closing to 19min in the first 10k of the 67k paddle. Currie rallied and was 21min clear at the famous Staircase rapid, but at Woodstock after 55k Ussher was back down to 19min and at the Waimakariri Gorge Bridge he got out of the kayak 17min behind. But that was as close as Ussher would get.

Out of the kayak the eager 27 year old leader once again surged through the transition back to bikes and added a minute to his lead. On the final 70k cycle to Sumner Beach Ussher chased hard, but Currie was undeniable. Midway through the ride he started pulling away again and in the end would add another three minutes to his lead, crossing the finish line in Sumner Beach after 11hrs 18min 37secs to win his second consecutive Speight’s Coast to Coast.

“Oh, I just felt so good all day,” he said after running across the finish line with his children Belle and Tarn.

“Over Goat Pass someone said I was 13min ahead and I said, let’s see if I can double it.”

In the end the winning margin was 20min, with a resigned Ussher crossing the line in 11hrs 39min 19secs and saying, “He was just faster all day. I didn’t think he would get that far ahead in the run and then he held on all day. He had a great race.”

Asked if his two wins was the start of new era that might see him match Ussher’s five titles or even Steve Gurney’s nine titles, Braden Currie said simply. “Honestly I don’t know. You take these things one race at a time. But I love this race so I will always be back.”

Someone who did think Braden Currie’s win was the start of a new era is his elder brother, Glen. The 33 year old capped off a great family day with third place, finishing 18min behind second placed Ussher in 11hrs 57min 29secs.

“Braden is very special aye,” said the 33 year old brother. “Growing up in Methven, whatever sport I was doing Braden would take it up and end up better than me. I’d change sports and he’d come along and be better again. He’s pretty special.”

Another athlete who is obviously special is Wanaka’s Jess Simson. In her first attempt at the one Day world title race the 29 beat two-time champion Elina Ussher.

Like her Wanaka neighbour, Braden Currie, Simson cleared out on the run to open up 11min. Like her husband, Elina Ussher fought back on the kayak, reducing Simson’s lead to just 3min to set up a classic last cycle section to Sumner beach.

But Simson wasn’t finished. On that final cycle only four of the top-10 men rode faster than the eventual women’s winner. Visibly riding herself to the absolute limit, she crossed the line after 13hrs 12min 24secs and promptly collapsed on the sands of Sumner Beach.

It would be more than half an hour before the winner emerged from the medical tent, during which time a disappointed Elina Ussher claimed second in 13hrs 26min 10secs. Waipukurau’s Anyika Thomson was significantly happier with a surprise third place in 13hrs 54min 46secs.

Another person more than happy was 64 year old Robin Judkins. While Braden Currie and Jess Simson were ushering in new eras for the sport, the creator of multisport world wide was ending his.

In 1983 just 79 people from three countries participated in Judkin’s inaugural Coast to Coast. Speight’s came on board seven years later and this year celebrated 25 years as the title sponsor of New Zealand’s favourite race. But Judkins has organised all 32 of the events and along the way more than 22,000 people from 27 country’s have participated in the world’s longest running multisport race.

But this was Judkins last. After selling the event to South Island tourism giants Trojan Holdings last year, he organised one final event for them.

Standing beside the finish line today he said, “It was a great way to cap things off really. Two new champions bringing in a new era of winners bodes well for a new era for the Speight’s Coast to Coast.”

For full results see www.coasttocoast.co.nz


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