The Big Five-O: A golden milestone for S80

By Andrew Johnston

NOTHING means more to Echuca-Moama than the Southern 80.

It’s the biggest sporting event in town, a cornerstone of our lives.

And this year, it celebrates race number 50.

From the 100-mile Echuca Cup in 1965 to Merc Force’s back-to-back victories in 2017 and 2018, the race has become one of the most celebrated in the sport.

And Tuesday’s launch of the 2019 event saw the promise of the biggest event yet.

Moama Water Sports Club president Stephen Shipp said the anniversary is an opportunity to pay tribute to those who have made the race what it is today.

‘‘When you go back in the history to 1965, you realise that making the 80 what it is now has been a long-term project,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s incredible to have people who have been involved this entire time, who are still living around town or who moved here because of their love for the region.

‘‘The 80 has become in so many ways a part of what life in Echuca-Moama is. We live our lives on this river, and the 80 showcases that incredible part of local life.’’

In celebration of the event hitting its 50th running, the committee will introduce its Hall of Fame.

Leo Welch, who has been nominated for induction — though joked it won’t rule him out of future competition — said the event deserves to have a hall.

‘‘When you look at other major sports across the country — the AFL and NRL being really prime examples of this — they have designated that way of showing respect to people who have made a major contribution to their sport,’’ he said.

‘‘I have been around so many people who have worked incredibly hard to build this race into what it has become,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m really excited to see some of those people rewarded for all their hard work.’’

Welch will return to the observer seat for the 2019 race — the seat he occupied in Island Cooler’s 1989/90 double.

Zac Welch will be the man behind the wheel of the Mistress.

‘‘This event is in my blood,’’ he said.

‘‘When I won as a skier behind Mistress in 2016, it meant the absolute world to me to have been a part of it. But the idea of winning in the driver’s seat would be incredible as well.’’

The arrival of summer — and a beautiful morning at Moama Beach for the launch — has the racing community raring to go.

‘‘Things are already looking good for us,’’ Shipp said.

‘‘The river is beautiful, summer is on the way, it’s exactly how we want things to be.’’

‘‘I wish it was tomorrow,’’ Leo said.

‘‘I’m ready to race now.’’

He will have to wait.

Though, thankfully, not too much longer.