Hop­pet chal­lenge starts early for the cross coun­try race favourite

Mt Hotham Falls Creek - - FRONT PAGE -

AUSSIE favourite for the Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet Phil Belling­ham is in a race against time to be fit for the na­tion’s big­gest cross coun­try ski race this Satur­day.

The Sochi Olympian is bat­tling for fitness af­ter a footy in­jury turned into a ma­jor med­i­cal scare.

Belling­ham was help­ing out his lo­cal club Ded­erang/Mt Beauty in the Tal­lan­gatta League when he picked up a “corkie” in his leg.

He knew some­thing was wrong when he went for a ski the next day.

A “mas­sive” hematoma has de­vel­oped around the in­jury, the pool of blood lead­ing to an in­fec­tion with the grow­ing fear it could stop the blood flow to the leg al­to­gether.

Belling­ham was in and out of hos­pi­tal for weeks as he rode a health scare roller­coaster.

“I’m gut­ted,” he told the Mount Hotham Falls Creek News.

“I’m just an id­iot play­ing footy and handed the jumper straight back af­ter the game.

“I’d put in 300 hours of train­ing in the three months prior in a bid to win the Hop­pet and at the mo­ment I’m still strug­gling to get the knee past 90 de­grees.”

Belling­ham was seen as the main hope for an Aussie vic­tory in the Falls Creek cross coun­try ski marathon that has been dom­i­nated by Olympic gold medal­list Alexan­der Legkov and Swiss gun Va­le­rio Lec­ca­rdi in re­cent years.

He says he will still be on the start line.

“I’ve been smash­ing it in the past week in a bid to be fit enough for the race,” Belling­ham said.

“I’ve lost a fair bit of mus­cle mass in that leg and of course the move­ment isn’t great.

“I re­turned to rac­ing re­cently and had a sec­ond and a fourth but would have ex­pected bet­ter be­fore the in­jury.

“The Amer­i­can Matt Gelso and Ben Sim (a four-time Hop­pet win­ner) are both in form and I’d ex­pect they are now the favourites but I will still carry high ex­pec­ta­tions into the race.”

Belling­ham says the long-term goal is the next Win­ter Olympics in North Korea.

“And in the in­terim I want to break into the top-30 in the World Cup sprints,” he said.

“Last north­ern hemi­sphere win­ter my best re­sult was 36th – that’s about half a sec­ond out­side the top-30 in a three-minute sprint.”

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