Hoppet challenge starts early for the cross country race favourite
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.”