Ex-Coast to Coast champs extol race

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2012

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Former Coast to Coast champions are convinced the trans-South Island race is as challenging now as it was 30 years ago.

Race organiser Robin Judkins invited some of his stalwart competitors to Sumner Beach – the race's traditional finish line – yesterday to mark the 30th anniversary of the iconic event.

Judkins greeted each arrival like an old friend – including pioneers from 1983 when Judkins' jaunt from Kumara Beach in the west to Sumner in the east put multisport on the map.

The gathering included Joe Sherriff, the Invercargill anaesthetist who won the first race, a two-day affair, and Russell Prince, winner of the first Longest Day one-day race in 1987.

Judkins encouraged his entourage to wear their original race T-shirts – and, to a man and a woman, they still fitted, much to the delight of the race guru, whose idiosyncratic laugh is as much a part of the Coast to Coast soundscape as his trademark bullhorn megaphone.

Former veterans section champion Sandy Sandblom sported several layers, including the 1983 and 1984 commemorative shirts.

John Howard, who won the second race and "won the third as a team" – is now "one of the longest serving officials working on the race".

His post is at the top of Goat Pass on the mountain run course where he advises on mountain conditions and helps competitors.

Howard, who has done a lot of adventure racing, says the Coast to Coast is "still the best multisport event to do".

"It's stunning scenery all along the course ... from the West Coast bush to the plains [on the Canterbury side of the Main Divide].

"When you are running through the mountains or kayaking down the river, there's a sense of awe out there, especially for first-timers. I work a lot with competitors from overseas and they are surprised at how hard the run is and really inspired by the kayak [section]."

Vivienne Prince was one of the pioneer women racers at a time when there was tough competition from rivals such as five-time champion Kathy Lynch, Claire Parkes, Stella Sweeney and Andrea Murray.

She is still an adventure racer and is preparing for the world rogaining championships this year but says the Coast-to-Coast is "still a challenge". "The equipment has got better, but the river and mountains don't change."

Prince's love of the Coast to Coast has been shared with her family. She won the family teams race with daughter Jackie in 1995. Her son, Aaron, and daughter Lara, have also competed with distinction in the Coast to Coast.

The children's father, Russell Prince, has won the Longest Day one-day world championship and veteran men's titles.

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Nine-time champion Steve Gurney says it "feels weird" not to be competing in the 30th anniversary race. But he will still be involved in a media role, "choppering up and down the course" for a live adventure sports website.

Last year, he partnered race founder Judkins in the teams race, but Gurney has "a stuffed ankle" and finds it "too painful to run". "I could still ... compete but I can't run fast enough to win races."

- Canterbury

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