CROSS COUNTRY SKIING By JUSTIN JENVEY
THE elite men’s and women’s races in this weekend’s Kangaroo Hoppet are shaping up to be the most competitive in a number of years.
At the pointy end of both fields are a number of skiers capable of taking out the Australian leg of the Worldloppet series.
Australia’s best hope in both the men’s and women’s races is Mt Beauty’s Phil Bellingham and Barbara Jezersek who will be skiing under the Australian flag for the first time.
Bellingham, who represented Australia at the Sochi Winter Olympics, was runner up in both the 2014 and 2016 Hoppets.
He will be looking to become the first Australian to win the event since Ben Sim topped the podium in 2009.
However, the 26 year-old will have stiff competition from threetime winner, Swiss Olympic star and current Australian team coach Valerio Leccardi.
Fellow Australians who could spoil the party include Paul Kovacs and Callum Watson who have showed very strong lead-up form.
US skiers Miles Havlick and Jeremy Hecker could also produce a surprise on the day.
In the elite women, Jezersek, who has recently gained Australian citizenship since moving from Slovenia, will face tough opposition from seven-time French national champion Iris Pessey.
Pessey has been working and training at Falls Creek for the winter and has had a good season to date.
Perennial podium finisher Ai- ON TRACK: Paul Kovacs is one of the Australian skiers eyeing a first Kangaroo Hoppet crown. mee Watson will be seeking her first win and sprint superstar Kat Paul is showing signs of developing into a long-distance force after her fifth in last year’s event.
Bronze medal winner from the 2017 Asian Games, Casey Wright has also flown back to Australia from her training base in the US and will likely have a say in the final results.
Kangaroo Hoppet race direct Ben Derrick said unprecedented snow falls in August will have the course in immaculate condition.
“It is not always the case that we have enough snow for the full course but with the latest dump the magnificent Bogong High Plains should be on full display,” he said.
“While all eyes will be on the elite skiers leading the pack in the main event, for Australia’s aspiring future Olympians the eight AGL Energy in Action scholarships will also be hotly contested.
“They’re awarded to the first U18 and U14 male and female in the 7km Joey Hoppet, first U23s in the 21km Birkebeiner and the first Australians in the main race.”
The 2017 Hoppet marks 10 years of partnership with major sponsor AGL Energy, owner and operator of the Kiewa Hydro Electricity Scheme and Australia’s largest retailer of renewable energy.