Ussher back to win at 30th
Story by: JOSH REICH - Photo by: Stringer
Speight's Coast to Coast champion Richard Ussher is returning in search of a fifth win in the 243-kilometre world multisport championship across New Zealand's South Island.
Scheduled this year for February 11, Coast to Coast race director Robin Judkins is more than pleased at Ussher's return to his race.
"Honestly, I'm over the moon that Richard is racing again. You always want the current champion defending their title, but especially with this year's event being the 30th anniversary."
Judkins has dubbed the 30th celebrations "The Year of the Champions" and has invited every past champion, across all the categories, back for the 2012 event.
Much like nine-times winner Steve Gurney, Judkins said Ussher was something of a "champion of champions".
"Richard is arguably the most talented guy multisport has ever seen," Judkins said.
"Steve Gurney was superbly prepared, a brilliant tactician, and gave the sport a great profile, and Keith Murray still holds the race record.
"But Richard has been world class across skiing, multisport, adventure racing and triathlon, so you'd have to say he's the most talented athlete multisport has seen."
In 2011, Ussher came back to the Coast to Coast following a three-year affair with Ironman triathlon.
Despite having not raced the world title event since 2008, he won by 15 minutes with a time of 10hr 41min 12sec to become the second-fastest winner in Coast to Coast history.
While Gurney won the race nine times (1990, 1991, 1997-2003) and Murray still holds the race record , many consider Ussher's 2011 effort, on a course more than 15 minutes slower than in 1994, as the best performance ever seen in the race.
Indeed, that win marks Ussher as the clear favourite in 2012, but there will be more motivation for him than simply a fifth title.
Ussher's wife Elina, the 2010 winner and 2011 runner-up, is also racing again and the Team Subway duo could become the first husband and wife to win the Coast to Coast in the same year.
They have twice come close to achieving this feat, with Richard first and Elina second in both 2006 and 2011.
The closest any other couple has come is Keith and Andrea Murray, who won in race record performances on separate occasions in 1994 and 1997. Their respective records of 10hr 34min 37sec and 12hr 09min 26sec still stand going into this year's 30th anniversary.
Ussher's motivation, however, will include beating a handful of young pretenders to the throne.
"In the last couple of years we've had some very strong surprise performances from young guys," said Judkins.
"The most obvious is Wanaka's Dougal Allen because he's been second for the last two years.
"But other youngsters such as Blenheim's Jeremy McKenzie and Auckland's James Kuegler [eighth and 10th in 2011] are said to be much improved.
"And the first two guys from the two-day race last year, James Coubrough from Lower Hutt and Dan Moore from Nelson, are both stepping up to the one day for the first time."
Still, Judkins said Ussher was the man everyone would be watching.
"Richard is undoubtedly the best multisporter in the world right now. The Coast to Coast is the world championship, so having the best athlete back on the start line is great for the race and great for the sport."
More than 600 entries are expected on the start line.