Robyn digs deep to win NZ coast-to-coast ul­tra

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - RACING - STEPHEN GRANGER

STEL­LEN­BOSCH ath­lete Robyn Owen is on top of the world af­ter rac­ing to vic­tory in the World Multisport Cham­pi­onships at the Kath­mandu Coast to Coast race over 243km in New Zealand yes­ter­day.

Held ev­ery Fe­bru­ary since its in­au­gu­ra­tion in 1983, the Coast to Coast tra­verses the width of the South Is­land, cross­ing the main di­vide from west to east and fin­ish­ing at Christchurch. Over 20 000 ath­letes have com­pleted the chal­lenge since its in­cep­tion.

In the race of her life, Owen com­pleted the run, cy­cle and kayak­ing chal­lenge in 12 hrs 44 min 56 sec, al­most four min­utes clear of New Zealand’s So­phie Hart, ar­guably the world’s lead­ing multisport ath­lete in re­cent years in one of the fastest fin­ish­ing times in the last decade.

Owen, sec­ond last year and run­ner-up in the Ul­tra-trail Cape Town 100km in De­cem­ber, won the gold medal and al­most R100 000 – the biggest pay cheque to date in her pro­fes­sional ca­reer.

“I guess this is as good as it gets! It’s so good to get the re­sult af­ter all the hard work over the last few months,” an ex­hausted Owen re­flected. “It’s been a phe­nom­e­nal goal and it’s great to be back here in New Zealand. I was pretty sure So­phie was catch­ing me on the fi­nal bike leg and I was feel­ing pretty spent af­ter the pad­dle, so was so happy to hold on.

“New Zealand is known to be the hub of multisport and ad­ven­ture rac­ing. I be­lieve the depth of tal­ent, par­tic­u­larly of fe­male ath­letes, is more than can be found any­where else in the world. It’s one of the rea­sons that the Coast to Coast is such an at­trac­tive event.”

Owen’s younger brother, Lance Kime, was at the fin­ish to wel­come his sis­ter, af­ter fin­ish­ing in an ex­cel­lent ninth place, just twelve min­utes ahead of Owen. “I couldn’t help chok­ing up – it was just so good see­ing Robyn win to­day,” a teary Kime com­mented.

Five times Dusi Ca­noe Marathon cham­pion, Owen’s pad­dling prow­ess is well known and feared by ri­vals, but it was her dex­ter­ity and strength on the test­ing 33km moun­tain trail run which clinched the ti­tle, with Owen leav­ing her com­peti­tors for dead on the rugged, tech­ni­cal riverbed climb up to and over Goat’s Pass.

Show­ing the form which took her to the Ot­ter Trail 42km record in 2016, Owen put 15 min­utes onto her clos­est ri­vals on the run, af­ter the top six women had fin­ished the 55km bike ride within sec­onds of each other. Af­ter that, it was al­ways go­ing to take an ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fort by the chasers to un­seat Owen.

In spite of feel­ing be­low-par in the pad­dle through the Waimakariri River gorge, Owen in­creased her lead by four min­utes over Hart and al­most twenty min­utes over strong Ger­man ath­lete, Si­mone Maier, to start the fi­nal bike leg with a 20 minute cush­ion. Hav­ing been over­taken by three­time cham­pion, Elina Ussher in the last leg last year, Owen ad­mit­ted to start­ing the fi­nal 70km “rid­ing scared” and deeply tired.

In a nail-bit­ing fin­ish, Hart cut Owen’s twenty minute lead to just 3 min 50 sec in the fi­nal 70km road cy­cle but draw­ing on all her re­serves, Owen fought off phys­i­cal and men­tal demons into a strong head­wind in the fi­nal quar­ter to hold on for a mem­o­rable vic­tory.

New Zealand’s Sam Clark re­tained his ti­tle with a con­vinc­ing 30 minute vic­tory over Aus­tralian Alex Hunt to take over­all line hon­ours and cross the line in 11 hrs 14 min 33 sec in a race largely over­shad­owed by the women’s com­pe­ti­tion, both in depth of tal­ent and shear ex­cite­ment.

Kraai­fontein-based train­ing part­ners, Danzil Paulse and For­tu­nate Chidzivo, raced to im­pres­sive vic­to­ries at the 27 for Free­dom Road Race yes­ter­day.

The 27km race is held an­nu­ally from the Vic­tor Ver­ster prison at Groot Drak­en­stein to com­mem­o­rate Nel­son Man­dela’s walk to free­dom al­most three decades ago.

Nkosi­nathi Madyo and Nomvuy­isi Seti took line hon­ours in the 10km event.

The promis­ing Paulse was the young­ster in the lead group of older ath­letes in­clud­ing 36 year old Delft ath­lete, Siyabonga Sakwe, and the over-forty Gugulethu pair, Peter Ts­awayo and Tsun­gai Mwa­nen­geni, with the four run­ners all in con­tention through the half way mark at Wem­mer­shoek.

But the “old men” could not com­pete with youth when Paulse surged ahead af­ter 14km. Only Ts­awayo took the fight to his younger ri­val, but he soon con­ceded, leav­ing Paulse to race to vic­tory by 47 sec­onds in 1:32:56.

“It’s a tough race,” ad­mit­ted Paulse. “My legs were start­ing to tire towards the end, but I’m pleased to have held on this time. I was lead­ing at the Bay to Bay 30km but had to drop out near the fin­ish due to de­hy­dra­tion.”

Chidzivo re­peated her win in the Bay to Bay 30km last month with a de­ci­sive vic­tory over Car­bi­neers ath­lete, Candyce Hall. Chidzivo raced clear from the start to cross the line in 1:51:10 to win by 7 min­utes.

“My main goal this year is to im­prove my marathon time,” ex­plained Chid­zovo. “I ran 2 hrs 41 min at Cape Town Marathon in 2016 and I will be go­ing all out to dip un­der 2 hrs 40 min this time.”

MARATHON-PHO­TOS .

TOP OF THE WORLD: Robyn Owen at the fin­ish line.

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