Kangaroo Hoppet 2002
by Frank Lundeen
September 5, 2002
I think the one thing on everyone's mind who raced in this
year's Kangaroo Hoppet, Australia's World Loppet ski marathon
is "wow, how did they pull if off"!?! The Hoppet took place
on Saturday, August 31, 2002 at Falls Creek, Victoria, in
the southeast corner of Australia. With the best, most consistent
snow in years the Hoppet trail was in perfect condition 3
days before the event! As we Birkie skiers are so familiar
with, the Hoppet experienced a "major meltdown with wind and
rain" in the final hours before the event took place. On Friday
morning racers speculated that the race would be limited to
a small lap course due to lack of snow, but with lots of volunteers
and effort the hoppet pulled off the normal full length course.
The night before the race another warm front moved through
with gale force winds which again threatened the race shortly
before the start. FIS technical delegates Tom Duffy of the
Hayward area and Rob Barrow of Melbourne delayed the start
1 hour due to extreme gale winds in the unprotected high plains
section of the course. At 10:00 the race was on!
The course conditions for this year's Hoppet were amazingly
good, for what groomers had to work with. However warm, windy
conditions in the hours before the start turned a firm, clean
track into slushy, dirty snow. Conditions on the course ranged
from slush that went over the top of your ski boots to new
"crunchy" powder which made having fast skis a challenge (definitely
an aggressive structure day with Dibloc HF Yellow and Jetstream
Old Snow). It was definitely going to be a long race for everyone!
The track shortly after the start was surprisingly firm but
as we hit the climbs and exposed areas, the snow often turned
to sloppy slush. The snow conditions, combined with the difficulty
of the course made for a tough race! I heard people saying
that at times they were skiing uphill for 5k, through 8" of
slush, into a 30mph headwind. That wasn't far from the truth!
This year's field was no disappointment with stars like
Stanislav Rezak of the Czech Republic, Ben Derrick (defending
champion), Cameron Morton (3 times runner up), Sarah Peters
of Canada, and Belinda Phillips (ladies defending champion).
In the men's race the first selection quickly took place
with Ben Derrick, Stanislav Rezak, and Cameron Morton establishing
a significant lead coming out of Sun Valley (5k into the race).
On the appropriately named climb, "the Paralyzer", Rezak skied
away from Derrick and Morton. The race for 1st place was over
with Rezak building his lead to 5 minutes by the finish. The
struggle for 2nd and 3rd place was tight with Morton and Derrick
going back and forth for the first 25k until Derrick blew
up to be passed by Anthony Evans (many time Australian Champion).
Morton finished 2nd with Evans Finishing 3rd.
The women's race also was won decisively. Belinda Phillips
motored away from Sarah Peters and Camile Melvey within the
first kilometers, never to be seen again finishing 9 minutes
up on 2nd place. The race for 2nd place was tight with Melvey
closing to within 1 minute of Peters near the finish.
My race went about has I had expected. I've been having
foot problems for the past 3 months which have limited my
classic skiing and running. I've also had a nasty cold/flu
virus for the past 4 weeks which I'm just getting over. Unfortunately,
I was sick right through the heart of the Australian race
season. Despite the odds being against me, I was mentally
ready to give it my best go at the Hoppet. I got off to a
decent start, but about 100 meters into the race, someone
stepped on my ski which caused me to crash. I scrambled up
but the leaders were well up the trail. After making up some
ground, I settled into a comfortable pace for the first 25k.
At the top of the notorious "Riley's Revenge" climb I picked
up the pace and skied quite well into the finish, passing
10+ skiers in the last 12k. After the race, I feel satisfied
with my result but not happy with it. A top 20 finish in the
hoppet is very respectable, but had I been healthy, I feel
I would have finished in the top 10.
It is definitely different trying to ski race hard in July
and August. I do believe that racing year round as I have
this year will make a big difference in my performances this
coming winter. At the very least, my skiing and training experiences
here in Australia have been very educational for me. I've
learned things about my body in terms of how it reacts to
different types of training, training load, issues with my
body's structural alignment, and potential injury problems.
For the remainder of my stay in Australia I plan on taking
it easy for a few weeks in order to get healthy and allow
my foot to fully heal. Then in my final weeks I plan on hanging
out around the beaches for a while so I can catch a bit of
Summer before I come back to Winter in the USA.
Let's all hope for lots of snow in the Midwest this winter!
Start of the race