Thirty years ago the inaugural Speight's Coast to Coast had just three participants from outside of New Zealand. This year the 30th anniversary of the world's longest running multisport event features almost 100 internationals from 16 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.
With the 30th anniversary of the Speight’s Coast to Coast just a week away, Race Director Robin Judkins has once again attracted a strong international entry. One of the highlights he says is the return of inaugural winner, Joe Sherriff, who these days is a resident of Invercargill. But lining up alongside Sherriff will be another of the inaugural internationals, American Tom Barichello, who finished fifth in 1983.
The 243k cycle, mountain run and kayaking race across the South Island starts on February 10 and Judkins says, “At the moment we have 95 international entries from 16 countries, but there are still entries coming in!”
Entries this year have come from as far afield as the USA, England, Canada, Scotland, Wales, Hong Kong, Denmark, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Brazil, South Africa, France, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands and even Trinidad.
“The really impressive thing,” says Judkins, “is that among New Zealand regions only Canterbury has more entries than the internationals.”
Trinidad multisport champion Clarence Tobias will be the first person from his country to contest the Speight’s Coast to Coast. But he also hopes to finish in the top-10 of the feature One Day World Championship race.
Another expected to shine is the United Kingdom’s Andy Blow, who won the Scottish Coast to Coast in May 2011, and Brazilian Camila Nicolau, who was eighth in 2011. Nicolau is one of the world’s top female adventure racers and has been based in Queenstown in recent months to train specifically for the 2012 event.
Other top adventure racers include Olaf Sunstrom and Simon Niemi from Sweden. But most interest will be on the French pair of Myriam “Mimi” Guillot and Jacky Boisset, who were part of the Team Thule who won the adventure racing world title last year in Australia.
Judkins, however, has been most impressed with entries from Australia, saying, “Entries from across the Tasman just keep growing. There are 39 Aussies so far.”
Internationals could have a big impact on the race for line honours in 2012. The world’s most prestigious multisport race has been won by international athletes on four occasions since Joe Sherriff won the inaugural 1983 race.
Australian John Jacoby (1988, ’89, and ’93) and South African Rockley Montgomery (1992) were next, while race record holder Keith Murray (10:34:37, 1994) hailed from Scotland but was living in Christchurch when he won. The same can be said of Murray’s wife, Andrea, who hails from the USA but was also living in Christchurch when she set the women’s race record (12:09:26, 1997).
The women’s world title race has established something of a tradition for producing New Zealand-based internationally born winners. 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) as well as third on two other occasions (2005, 2011).
Miazga retired following the 2011 Speight’s Coast to Coast, but Judkin’s says the Kiwi internationals will still have an impact in Nelson-based Finn, Elina Ussher, and Christchurch-based Dane, Sia Svensen.
“Elina won the Speight’s Coast to Coast in 2010,” says Judkins, “and has four other top-five placings. So she is definitely a favourite. But Sia Svendsen is a dark horse because she has twice won the Two Day Teams event and is now trying the One Day World Championship.”
Judkins takes personal pride in the development of these internationals-turned-Kiwis such as Ussher and Svendsen, right back to Joe Sherriff, saying, “These people and dozens of others came to New Zealand to do the Speight’s Coast to Coast and they liked New Zealand so much they stayed. I think that sums up the prestige both of the event and the country!”