Surf lifesavers inch closer to world title
The tide has apparently turned at Glenelg Beach in Adelaide - New Zealand is on the verge of ending Australia's domination of the world life saving championships after a superb performance in the pool was embossed by a golden day on the water.
Heading into the final day of competition the Kiwis lead the six-time defending champions by 97 points - an advantage that should guarantee their first world title since Auckland hosted the biennial tournament in 1998.
Since then New Zealand has languished in their trans-Tasman rivals wake, notably during the climactic events as Australia traditionally overcame deficits to protect their status as the sport's powerhouse.
Most recently New Zealand was pipped at the death in Egypt two years ago but they would have to collapse dramatically for Australia to defend their crown.
Realising they needed a significant buffer after the pool events ended on Friday, New Zealand exceeded expectations to lead by 81 points and remarkably the gap increased yesterday despite Shannon Eckstein and Kristyl Smith signalling a green and gold resurgence with early victories.
New Zealand responded with two more gold medals in the men's and women's board rescue team events, a massive morale boost as they hit the home stretch today.
Team vice-captain Kevin Morrison even admitted the championship may be New Zealand's to lose.
"We'd be lying if we said we weren't thinking about it but our whole motto for the entire campaign has just been to think about the performance rather the result," Morrison said.
"We try and get all the little things right and just let the result take care of itself. So far, the result is definitely taking care of itself."
Morrison and Max Beattie combined to produce the pivotal outcome of the day when they beat the star-studded Australian duo of team of Eckstein and Hugh Dougherty in the board rescue.
"Max just had the swim of his life," said Morrison, deflecting praise to his teammate.
"I couldn't believe I was away first and my heart was in my mouth all the way out, then it was just hell-for-leather coming home."
Eckstein had earlier sparked Australia's charge by claiming the ski race while Smith won the board race in front of Kiwis Nikki Cox and Devon Halligan.
However, Cox and Halligan regrouped to beat Smith and Rebecca Creedy in the board rescue - the sixth gold medal collected by the women's team following their successes in the South Australian Aquatic Centre.
Team captain Andy McMillan, who lines up in today's surf race final, was rapt with the effort so far and said there was no risk of complacency now the title is within reach.
"We really just wanted to come out firing.
"We did really well in the pool and we just wanted to keep that momentum and keep attacking. We've got so much strength on the beach and we've done all the work -- we just need to believe in it and empty whatever we've got left in the tank."Naturally Australians never admit defeat and Dougherty was defiant in the face of adversity.
"You don't want to lose to anyone. New Zealand and us have been pretty close for a while, they've been trying to knock us off so it would be nice to get up and beat them."