1000 skiers expected for anniversary Hoppet
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.
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).