Myrtleford Times - - Sport -

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.

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