Sport

Racing on the river of dreams

by
January 03, 2018

The Mistress during the Barrie Beehag. Photo by Luke Hemer.

WHAT makes the Southern 80 the best ski race in the world?

It’s a tag line commonly associated with our region’s premier event, but what exactly is it about the February extravaganza that makes it the ultimate?

World champion skier and Echuca local Chelsea Blight said it was simple — it’s the only race like it.

‘‘I call it the best race in the world because it is unique,’’ she said.

‘‘As we know it’s an 80-kilometre course with 120-plus bends, there is no other race like that.’’

Blight added it was the prestige of the race, coupled with her long-held love of the event as a local, making it water skiing’s ultimate.

‘‘It’s the most known ski race in the world. Winning the Southern 80 as a water skiing athlete is fairly high on the priority list,’’ she said.

‘‘But also because of my local involvement as well and the fact I’m an Echuca girl, I really want to get the record at this race and love the race purely because all my family and friends live here.’’

Fellow local and former winner of the race, the Mistress’ Leo Welch, said the concentration and being on the edge for the entire run was an incomparable experience.

‘‘It’s the challenge of the course, but it’s also the adrenaline,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t think there’s another sport in the world where you can have that adrenaline pumping for 30 minutes full-on. You have to concentrate, and it’s physically demanding on all members of the crew.

‘‘But it’s the concentration levels, and then the jubilation when you get the job done. Win, lose or draw, if you know you’ve done a good job, it’s just fantastic.

‘‘I’ve raced 35-plus years now. I’d hate to think how many times I’ve run the Southern 80. Some years we ran it three times. I’d be up to 35 or 40 runs, and I’ve loved every one of them.’’

Moama Water Sports Club president John Lomas, a veteran of the sport, agreed it was the challenging 80-kilometre course that makes the event the best in the world.

‘‘I think what makes it the premier race in the world, and I’ve been to a fair few ski races in my time and competed in an awful lot from a skier to a driver to an observer, is the challenge of the 122 bends,’’ he said.

‘‘You go to Sydney and you whizz up to the wharf, at Grafton you whizz up to Grafton and it’s wider up there than it is here. Robinvale is in the river but it’s not the windy course this is.

‘‘The windy course means it’s a whole crew situation — it takes the four people to sync properly and have the perfect day.

‘‘And those that do have success, some of them have been trying for an awfully long time before it comes.’’

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