Kangaroo Hoppet celebrates 25th year
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.