Editorial: A global perspective wants to see change

People tend to react to criticism in two quite distinct ways. Many get very defensive and block their ears, disengage the grey matter and refuse to concede their challenger might have a point.

Less often - but surely more wisely - they might listen to what is being said, analyse it objectively and make appropriate adjustments.

Coast to Coast director Robin Judkins appears firmly in the first camp following a series of suggestions and criticisms from defending champion Nelson athlete Richard Ussher. Fairfax sports reporter Greg Ford describes Judkin's response as a "spontaneous eruption" and "unfit for print".

Ussher in effect calls for Judkins to step aside, allowing more professional organising of the event. Its 31st rendition is on at the end of this week. While it is described as the world's premier multi-sport event, Ussher suggests it is slipping behind the pack, and changes are needed if it is to return as a trend-setter or even foot it with similar events overseas. He adds the famously gruelling race does not represent value for money, other events are run more professionally and many of the "little details" expected of international multisport contests are absent.

His point about the money side of things seems accurate. Hundreds of contestants will tackle the run-kayak-cycle race from Kumara Beach on the West Coast to Sumner Beach on Friday and Saturday. They'll pay $1000 each for the privilege. The winner of the main event, the shortest day, will pocket 10 times that with a first prize purse of $10,000; the runner-up gets $1400, little more than his money back. In all, $240,000 in prizes, race pack goodies, finishers' medals, dinners and other products are returned to competitors, according to the race website.

Ussher's comments sound thoughtful, respectful and considered. He says he's been raising such points with race organisers - pages and pages of feedback over the years - without getting a response. The inference is that he is speaking out publicly because he has tried other routes without getting any traction. He sounds like a man motivated simply by wanting to see improvement in an event he loves.

Judkins' initial response, in contrast, seemed marked by hurt pride, defensiveness and anger. He sounded like a proud parent quite unable to see his baby's flaws. That's understandable. Judkins has been with the event from the start when, in 1982, along with 11 mates he pioneered the same 243km course which is used today. He organised the first official race the following year, and now aged over 60, has been with it ever since - half of his life.

His reaction was also, sadly, unprofessional. Wiser to offer a terse no comment and self-impose a time out to consider a full response and, more importantly, what Ussher was saying. As with many sports in which professionals and amateurs both compete, the Coast to Coast is for two types of competitor: the world class elite for whom multisport is a profession, and the keen amateur driven by the challenge of finishing. Ussher, very much the professional, is well placed to offer a global perspective on what needs to be done to cater for the world endurance-sport market. Judkins should listen to his five-times champion. He might find both of them have a common goal.

The Nelson Mail