Husband and wife set goal
Story by: JOSH REICH - Photo by: MARION VAN DIJK
Richard and Elina Ussher are well used to the public expectation that comes with being two of New Zealand's premier multisport athletes, but what drives them is what they expect from themselves.
The Nelson couple once again head into the Speight's Coast to Coast this Saturday as favourites to take out the men's and women's Longest Day titles in the 243-kilometre slog from Kumara Beach, near Hokitika, to Sumner in Christchurch.
Richard has won it four times (2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011), while Elina, who hails from Finland, won in 2010.
Talk inevitably surfaces about whether they can become the first husband and wife to win in the same year, after coming close in both 2006 and 2011, when Richard won and Elina was runner-up.
"I will definitely be hoping that we both get a win on Saturday. It will make it a happy household if that happens," Richard said.
"I think it would be really nice if we both could, because then we wouldn't have one person having to temper their celebrations while the other person commiserates."
However, that, and the expectations of the public, are not what drives the couple.
Rather, they are looking to fulfil their own goals.
"We've got our own expectations on ourselves, and they are probably far stronger than what anyone else thinks," Richard said.
"All we're really aiming for are more performance-orientated goals, and if you tick all those boxes, then the result takes care of itself ... hopefully."
Both are in good form, despite having suffered minor injuries in the leadup to the race.
Elina was left with bruised ribs after she fell from her bike while training for the New Zealand crosscountry mountainbike championships two weeks ago.
Richard dislocated a finger in a fall while training in Arthur's Pass, and last weekend came off his time trial bike thanks to grease on the road, leaving one of his hips a little raw.
"It's not much fun when it gets a bit wet and you're on a road bike," he said.
"I wasn't going very fast, but it was just so slippery you could barely stand up on it."
Elina's hopes have been boosted by a new kayak, designed and built by Flow Kayaks, run by her husband and Andrew Martin, which offers speed and significantly more stability. This is crucial for the kayak leg of the Coast to Coast, which comes about six hours into the event and at a stage where competitors want to refuel their bodies.
"They made the nose a little lower so it's not catching the wind," Elina says.
"Quite often, it is quite windy going through the gorge. Last year it really was just a nightmare."
Last year's women's winner, Nelson's Sophie Hart, is not taking part this year, but Elina is expecting tough challenges from a highly motivated Fleur Pawsey (Christchurch) and Rachel Cashin (Taumaranui), as well as international competitors Camila Nicolau (Brazil) and Myriam Guillot (France).
The men's field is tougher than in 2011, with two-time runner-up Dougal Allen, Braden Currie and former New Zealand mountain running rep James Coubrough expected to put up a potent challenge to Richard's dominance.
He is also picking a couple of international entries – Scottish Coast to Coast champion Andy Blow and Aussie Grant Suckling – with chances of a top-five spot.
"This year is going to be a very different year, though, because for probably the first time in a long time I go into the race knowing that on paper, I'm probably not the quickest runner through the run course. That's quite refreshing in a lot of ways," he said.
"It will be quite a different game plan to last year, when there really wasn't any obvious people who were going to be really quick in the run and on the paddle.
"Last year was probably a little bit soft as far as the race went, and while it was good to get a win after not being there for three years, the conditions definitely made the performance look a lot better than it was."