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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

Frank Lundeen

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