1000 skiers ex­pected for an­niver­sary Hop­pet

Mt Hotham Falls Creek - - FRONT PAGE - ByALLAN MARS­LAND

AF­TER host­ing the largest an­nual in­ter­na­tional snow-sports event in the south­ern hemi­sphere for 24 years, Falls Creek will this year cel­e­brate the 25th an­niver­sary of the Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet in late Au­gust.

More than 1000 skiers from over 20 na­tions will con­verge on Falls Creek to take part in a week­long fes­ti­val of events and so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties cul­mi­nat­ing on Satur­day, Au­gust 22, with the 42km Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet, to­gether with the 21km Aus­tralian Birke­beiner and 7km Joey Hop­pet.

The Hop­pet is part of the World­lop­pet se­ries of 20 long dis­tance ski events held in 20 na­tions across five con­ti­nents.

In the 25 years since the Hop­pet joined the World­lop­pet, the se­ries has grown from 12 to 20 na­tions, with Ar­gentina, China, Ice­land and New Zealand the lat­est ad­di­tions to the list.

The win­ter of 1991, the year of the first Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet, was a year that par­tic­i­pants and or­gan­is­ers will never for­get.

There had not been such heavy snow falls in over a decade, and when an­other me­tre of snow fell two days be­fore the race the only op­tion was to post­pone the event for 24-hours, to al­low the trail groomers time to build a new course from scratch.

For­tu­nately they were up to the chal­lenge and Sun­day dawned with a cloud­less sky and gen­tle breeze.

The USA Na­tional Team were down-un­der for train­ing and rac­ing and the big­gest field ever as­sem­bled for an Aus­tralian cross coun­try ski race lined up in the start­ing area.

With Amer­i­cans John Aal­berg and Nancy Young­man tak­ing top podium po­si­tions, the event was a huge suc­cess and Falls Creek’s Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet be­came a regular fix­ture on the in­ter­na­tional ski cal­en­dar.

Over the years the Hop­pet has at­tracted some of the world’s best cross coun­try skiers.

Top of the list in re­cent times has to be Alexander Legkov and Ilya Ch­er­nosov who took out the top places at the Hop­pet in 2012 and 2013 be­fore go­ing on to col­lect gold and bronze in the 50km race at the 2014 Sochi Win­ter Olympic Games.

But when it comes to a life­time of achieve­ment in the sport it would be hard to go past Nor­we­gian An­ders Auk­land.

Af­ter win­ning the 1993 Hop­pet as a fresh faced 20-year-old he went on to a ca­reer that has in­cluded gold and sil­ver medals at both Olympic and World Cham­pi­onships, and at least 10 World­lop­pet first places.

They have in­cluded the 90km Vasa­lop­pet (SWE) in 2004, three times on the top step of the podium at the Birke­bein­ner-ren­nett (NOR) in 2010, 2012 and 2013, and in 2004 and 2008, at the Mar­cia­longa (ITA).

But there is more, in the sea­son just gone, Auk­land, at the age of 43 con­tin­ues to be up there with the best, tak­ing sec­ond place at Mar­cia­longa and Vasa­lop­pet.

The event with its com­bi­na­tion of shorter 7km Joey Hop­pet and 21km Aus­tralian Birke­beiner com­ple­ment­ing the full 42km Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet, pro­vides a path­way for skiers to start off short and work their way up to the top.

An im­por­tant fea­ture of the events for young skiers are the AGL En­ergy in Ac­tion Devel­op­ment Schol­ar­ships on of­fer to male and fe­males tak­ing out the U14 and U18 classes in the 7km, and the U23 in the 21km race.

A mea­sure of the suc­cess of th­ese is that all four Aus­tralian cross coun­try skiers and both biathlon skiers at the 2014 Sochi Win­ter Olympics were past re­cip­i­ents of AGL Awards, with sev­eral pick­ing up more than one schol­ar­ship over the years.

But the Hop­pet is about more than the fight for the podium and age class awards.

The com­bi­na­tion of dis­tances cou­pled with the sup­port of six food sta­tions around the course pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for skiers of all ages and abil­i­ties to come along and be part of the ac­tion of a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional ski com­pe­ti­tion, and for Aus­tralians, with­out the cost of an in­ter­na­tional air ticket.

For a num­ber of Aus­tralians how­ever, the cost of an in­ter­na­tional air ticket soon be­comes a sav­ings goal as they take on the chal­lenge of com­plet­ing many of the other races in the World­lop­pet se­ries.

And over­all 73 Aus­tralian skiers have gone on to be­come World­lop­pet Masters.

This award re­quires that you com­plete ten dif­fer­ent World­lop­pet races and while it is tech­ni­cally pos­si­ble to do this in one year, for most peo­ple it is an achieve­ment that has re­quired sev­eral trips to the other side of the world. A 25th an­niver- sary is al­ways a spe­cial oc­ca­sion and or­gan­is­ers of the Hop­pet are plan­ning for a big­ger than usual crowd with many for­mer par­tic­i­pants ex­pected to make the ef­fort to come back and join in the cel­e­bra­tions.

And for those who have not had the plea­sure of tak­ing part in the race on Hop­pet Day, as well as regular Hop­peteers who are in need of some fine tun­ing to their tech­nique and maybe a bit of ex­pert ad­vice on their train­ing pro­grams there is some good news.

A part­ner­ship be­tween YMCA’s Falls Creek Nordic Cen­tre at Windy Cor­ner and the coaches and ath­letes of Australia’s Na­tional Cross Coun­try Team will be of­fer­ing coach­ing and in­struct­ing ser­vices, in­clud­ing ad­vanced tech­nique clin­ics, video anal­y­sis and fit­ness train­ing pro­grams.

Cou­pled with a num­ber of cit­i­zen races at Falls Creek through­out the sea­son, and not over­look­ing the Hotham to Din­ner Plain at the start of Au­gust, now is the time to start think­ing Hop­pet and plan­ning to be part of the ac­tion on the fourth Satur­day in Au­gust - When the World Comes to Falls Creek.

Visit www.hop­pet.com.au for on­line en­try de­tails and more in­for­ma­tion.

PHOTO: Top Shots Falls Creek

BIG OC­CA­SION: Mt Beauty Win­ter Olympian Phil Belling­ham led the 2014 Hop­pet early on but it was Switzer­land’s Va­le­rio Lec­ca­rdi (mid­dle) who went on to win the race from Belling­ham and Pore­punkah’s Paul Ko­vacs (pic­tured in third).

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