Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet cel­e­brates 25th year

Mt Hotham Falls Creek - - FRONT PAGE - By ALLAN MARSLAND

MORE than 1000 skiers from across the world will con­verge on Falls Creek later this month to take part in the week­long fes­ti­val of events and so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties that is the 25th Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet.

The largest south­ern hemi­sphere mem­ber of the an­nual World­lop­pet se­ries of cross coun­try ski races held in twenty coun­tries across five con­ti­nents, the Hop­pet will celebrate its 25th an­niver­sary on Satur­day, Au­gust 22, with the run­ning of the 42km Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet, to­gether with the 21km Aus­tralian Birke­beiner and 7km Joey Hop­pet.

The win­ter of 1991, the year of the first Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet, was a year that par­tic­i­pants and or­gan­is­ers will never for­get.

There had not been such heavy snow falls in over a decade, and when another me­tre of snow fell two days be­fore the race the only op­tion was to post­pone the event for 24 hours, to al­low the trail groomers time to build a new course from scratch.

For­tu­nately they were up to the chal­lenge and Sun­day dawned with a cloud­less sky and gen­tle breeze.

The USA Na­tional Team were down-un­der for train­ing and rac­ing and the big­gest field ever as­sem­bled for an Aus­tralian cross coun­try ski race lined up in the start­ing area.

With Amer­i­cans John Aal- berg and Nancy Young­man tak­ing top podium po­si­tions, the event was a huge suc­cess and Falls Creek’s Kan­ga­roo Hop­pet be­came a reg­u­lar fix­ture on the in­ter­na­tional ski cal­en­dar.

Top of the list in re­cent times has to be Alexan­der Legkov and Ilya Ch­er­nosov who took out the top places at the Hop­pet in 2012 and 2013 be­fore go­ing on to col­lect gold and bronze in the 50km race at the 2014 Sochi Win­ter Olympic Games.

But when it comes to a life­time of achieve­ment in the sport it would be hard to go past Nor­we­gian An­ders Auk­land.

Af­ter win­ning the 1993 Hop­pet as a fresh faced 20-year-old he went on to a ca­reer that has in­cluded gold and sil­ver medals at both Olympic and World Cham­pi­onships, and at least ten World­lop­pet first places.

But the Hop­pet also puts a big fo­cus on the lo­cals and young­sters that take part ev­ery year and a high­light for ju­niors and U23 skiers are the six AGL Energy in Ac­tion schol­ar­ships val­ued at $500 that are awarded to the first U18 and U14 in the7km Joey Hop­pet, first U23 in the 21km and a fur­ther two $500 awards to the first Aus­tralians in the 42km main event.

With AGL re­cently re­new­ing their spon­sor­ship of the Hop­pet for a fur­ther three years, the up­com­ing gen­er­a­tion of young cross coun­try skiers can con­tinue to as­pire to re­ceive one of the schol­ar­ships.

Although there aren’t as many big names as there has been in the past there is still go­ing to be plenty of tal­ented skiers to watch out for this year.

Last year’s win­ner Valerio Lec­ca­rdi from Switzer­land has re­turned to Falls Creek to de­fend his ti­tle, but can ex­pect stiff com­pe­ti­tion from lo­cals Phil Belling­ham and Paul Ko­vacs who took out the mi­nor places in 2014.

Belling­ham has been back in Aus­tralia for a num­ber of months and is liv­ing and train­ing at Falls Creek, while Ko­vacs has only just re­turned from Alaska, where he has been train­ing since the end of the north­ern win­ter.

Three in­ter­na­tional Hop­pet first timers to watch out for are Ric­cardi Mich, from Te­sero in north­ern Italy who skis for Team Fu­tura in the in­ter­na­tional Ski Clas­sics se­ries, Eric Sto­vall from Fin­land and Estonian Kein Ei­naste, an ex­pe­ri­enced sprinter and coach with top 30 re­sults in World Cup in his CV who is based at Falls Creek for the win­ter where he has taken on the role of head coach of the Aus­tralian Na­tional Team.

In the women’s field, the 2014 run­ner up Bar­bara Jez­ersek from Slove­nia who is based at Per­isher this win­ter would be a strong con­tender for the ti­tle, and Amer­i­can Lau­ren Fritz who was fourth last year will be work­ing hard to make it to the podium in 2015.

Lo­cal Es­ther Bot­tom­ley who was third last year is ex­pected to take part, but has backed off her train­ing this year as she is work­ing full time at Mt Beauty Sec­ondary Col­lege.

With only three weeks un­til the big event you can get your last minute train­ing pro­grams and tips from the coaches at YMCA’s Falls Creek Nordic Cen­tre and the coaches and ath­letes of Aus­tralia’s Na­tional Cross Coun­try Team who have joined in part­ner­ship this year to of­fer coach­ing and in­struct­ing ser­vices.

Now is the time to start se­ri­ously think­ing Hop­pet and plan­ning to be part of the ac­tion on the fourth Satur­day in Au­gust - When the World Comes to Falls Creek.

Visit www.hop­pet.com.au for online en­try de­tails and more in­for­ma­tion.

2001: Ben Der­rick of the Wan­garatta Ski Club won his sec­ond Hopet in 2001 af­ter claim­ing pvic­tory a year ear­lier. He would go on to win an­other two Kan­ga­roo Hop­pets in 2003 and 2004.

1998: In low snow years the Hoppet has been moved to an al­ter­nate course up above Falls Creek in the Ru­ined Cas­tle /Mt McKay/Sum­mit area, this was the start­ing line in 1998.

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