Switzerland, Ukraine take victory at 2014 Kangaroo Hoppet
Australia’s international ski marathon the Kangaroo Hoppet was held on Saturday August 23 at Falls Creek in north-east Victoria.
Sunshine and great racing conditions greeted the 1000 plus competitors from 24 nations entered in the three race distances of 42km, 21km, and 7km. The first man across the line in the 42km was Valerio Leccardi from Switzerland, while the first woman was Valentina Shevchenko from Ukraine. The Kangaroo Hoppet is part of the Worldloppet series, which features 20 races in 20 countries and has annual participation of over 135,000 skiers.
The men’s podium was filled by Australian locals Phillip Bellingham and Paul Kovacs, with Vahur Teppan from Estonia and Thomas Smith from the USA rounding out the top five. This was Leccardi’s second Hoppet win, having won previously in 2010. The 30-year-old resident of Davos has been training and racing in Australia for over a month, based at the National Team Training Centre at Falls Creek.
The runner-up in the women’s event was Barbara Jezersek from Slovenia, ahead of three-time Australian Winter Olympian Esther Bottomley. Fourth and fifth place went to Lauren Fritz from the USA and Jessica Yeaton from Perth. A veteran on the World Cup circuit and five-time Winter Olympian, Shevchenko was the flag bearer for Ukraine at Sochi 2014.
The main pack in the men’s race broke up early on, with Leccardi and Bellingham sharing the lead and skiing away. As the duo started up the “Paralyser” climb Leccardi turned up the screws further and dropped Bellingham as well. With the first two places already done and dusted by the end of the first loop the battle was on for third. Kovacs, Teppan and Smith traded places until the second time through the Sun Valley loop when Kovacs managed to ski clear. Teppan and Smith were together to the end and were split by a sprint finish across the line. There was also a four way sprint for sixth place.
Shevchenko and Jezersek similarly skied away from the rest of the women then were split up on the Paralyser. Shevchenko built up a lead over the top of the course then held it throughout the second lap to win comfortably. Bottomley and Yeaton were battling for third until Fritz caught the two climbing over the Heathy Spur loop, then Bottomley made a short break and skied away into a clear third place. Yeaton lost contact with Fritz who then had fourth place wrapped up.
In the 21km Australian Birkebeiner Damon Morton from Marlo won for the second year in a row, ahead of Mark Pollock from Albury and Jackson Bursill from Canberra. Casey Wright from Launching Place was the first woman ahead of Kat Paul from Marysville and Aislinn Kildea from Wangaratta. In the 7km Joey Hoppet the winners were Matt Bull and Gabrielle Hawkins, both from Sydney.
The Kangaroo Hoppet was also the final event in the 2014 FIS Australia New Zealand Continental Cup (ANC). With the Hoppet victory Leccardi also secured the ANC win just 20 points ahead of Bellingham. Bottomley topped the women’s standing 75 points clear from Jessica Yeaton.