The eighteenth annual Kangaroo Hoppet, Australia's international ski marathon, was held today at Falls Creek in north-east Victoria. Twenty-three year old Ben Sim from Cooma won the men's 42km event in impressive fashion, breaking away from Viktor Novotny from the Czech Republic soon after the half-way mark and skiing away to win by over three minutes in the time of 1:42:16. In the women's 42km Evelyn Dong from the USA won in an equally convincing manner, well clear of Aimee Watson from Cooma. Over 1100 competitors from 25 countries and six continents entered in the three race distances of 42km, 21km, and 7km.
The Kangaroo Hoppet is the opening race of the 2008/2009 Worldloppet series of cross country skiing marathons, which are held in 15 countries around the world. Snow conditions were just about perfect, with a light breeze making the races a little more tactical on top of the Falls Creek High Plains. The event was supported by AGL Hydro, Australia's largest private producer of renewable energy, who are helping to promote the Victorian government's 'Keep Winter Cool' campaign.
A large pack stayed together for the first eight kilometres, before Geoffroy Pais from France picked up the pace and reduced the leading group to five athletes including Sim, Novtony, Andrew Mock from Porepunkah and Zach Violett from the USA. At the 10km mark Novotny put the foot down and made a serious break that caused a minor pile-up behind Pais who was unable to follow. Sim went around and managed to close down the gap to Novotny, however Mock's attempt to ski across was unsuccessful and he dropped back to Violett and Pais. Novotny and Sim worked together into the wind to increase their lead, then as they headed into Sun Valley for the second time on the figure of 8 loop Sim broke away solo. Novotny started to fade towards the end but hung on to second place by 28 seconds ahead of Violett. Pais finished fourth and Mock fifth.
Sim is the current Australian distance champion and one of Australia's leading cross country contenders for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. This was Sim's third Hoppet victory in four years, after he was runner-up to Thomas Freimuth of Germany in 2007.
Amongst the women's field Dong got away to a good start and already had a 30 second lead over Watson as they headed over the dam wall after the 7km Joey Hoppet loop. From there the time gap gradually grew, from just over two minutes after 21km to five and half minutes at the finish. Former Kangaroo Hoppet winner Belinda Phillips was in third place right up until the final short hill before the stadium, where she was caught and out-sprinted by Australian Sprint Champion Esther Bottomley. Dutch speed-skating Winter Olympian Carla Zilstra-Evans took fifth place.
Dong is well credentialed on the international marathon circuit, having won the 2008 American Birkebeiner earlier this year and placed 4th in the 2008 Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland, the world's biggest freestyle skiing marathon.
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Australian Team members Chloe McConville from Myrtleford and Callum Watson from Cooma won the 21km Australian Birkebiner event, while Lucy Glanville from Sydney and Dyllan Harmer from Wodonga were first in the 7km Joey Hoppet.
The Kangaroo Hoppet is also the final race in the 2008 FIS Australia New Zealand Cup, one of eight Continental Cup series around the world endorsed by the International Ski Federation. With the Hoppet victory today Sim jumped up to win the men's series by just five points ahead of Frenchman Pais. Bottomley already had the women's ANC sown up before the start today. As ANC champions both Australians will now receive their own special quota place on World Cup next season.
Women's Podium – Aimee Watson (AUS), Evelyn Dong (USA), Esther Bottomley (AUS)