NZ crowned world surf life saving champions
New Zealand's surf life saving team claimed the world championship crown for the first time since 1998 in Adelaide today by stunning Australia, the sport's dominant nation since the turn of the century.
Buoyed by a strong performance in the pool-based events though mindful of Australia's tendency to fight back on the beach and in the ocean, the Kiwis were ultimately able to relax part way through the final day's programme of Rescue 2012 at Glenelg Beach.
Carrying a 91-point lead into the final day of competition, New Zealand had to collapse dramatically in order for Australia to win a seventh successive title but more than held their composure to start planning their celebrations midway through the afternoon.
In Egypt two years ago New Zealand were overhauled in the dying stages but there was no last-ditch green-and-gold resurgence today despite typical belligerence from team captain Shannon Eckstein who won the surf and board races plus the ironman gold.
Those successes were in vain though as New Zealand tallied 844 points to Australia's 765 - ultimately the hosts could only shave a dozen from the Kiwis substantial overnight advantage.
While Eckstein was supreme for the former champions, the New Zealand contingent savoured a captain's knock by team leader Andy McMillan as they basked in the afterglow of their first title since Auckland hosted the biennial event.
Natasha Hind and Samantha Lee played a huge role in building an 81-point buffer in the pool before the competition switched Glenelg but the contribution of McMillan and fellow London Olympian Steven Kent should not be underestimated.
While Hind and Lee set new world records as they powered to gold, McMillan and Kent thrashed themselves to the point of exhaustion, sacrificing their individual ambitions for the good of the team.
"It was hard for a start because we both wanted to get world titles and world records as well but we had to take a step back and think about the team rather than ourselves," McMillan said.
"It was an easy choice to make in the end and I'm so glad we decided to go with that. We knew we'd have a pretty tough schedule and we'd have a lot of events to get through but we prepared ourselves for that and it paid dividends."
Thankfully McMillan, who has managed a torn cartilage in his knee for more than a month, was finally rewarded with a much deserved gold today as part of the four-man tube rescue team - a result that helped seal the Kiwis victory.
Australia needed to win practically every race on today's schedule - and hope the Kiwis practically sunk without trace - to consign New Zealand to second place for a sixth consecutive championship.
Eckstein caused some anxiety by winning the surf race and then securing a one-two finish with Hugh Dougherty in the board race but crucially Kevin Morrison and Max Beattie limited the damage by finishing third and fourth respectively on the board.
Devon Halligan, a former Australian age-group representative who pledged her allegiance to New Zealand in April, then practically guaranteed victory with gold in the ski race; teammate Nikki Cox claimed silver to quell the Australian comeback.
"I couldn't have asked for anything better than to turn around on the line and see Nikki come through right behind me," said the Sydney-born daughter of former Kiwis league star Daryl Halligan.
"It was really tough out there because it was so flat and there was only a little bit of wind chop and I could see them coming in my peripheral vision but managed to hang on."
Soon after McMillan, Kent, Morrison and Steven Ferguson combined to win the tube rescue, while the Australians could only finish third behind France, a bronze that confirmed their slide from top spot on the podium.
Chanel Hickman embossed the Kiwis remarkable achievement by winning the beach flags gold while Max Beattie underlined his potential by finishing second behind Eckstein in the ironman after winning the two-man board rescue with Morrison yesterday.
The women's taplin relay team produced the final flourish by fittingly winning the schedule's last event.
An emotional McMillan was understandably delighted to end Australia's winning streak.
"We came here with a mission and we achieved it and the whole team is jumping out of their skins. This feeling will stay with us for the rest of our lives," he said.
"Macca (McMillan) gave us a stern speech this morning and everything just fell into place throughout the day," added Morrison, the team vice-captain.
"We couldn't seem to put a foot wrong, or when we did, someone was there to lift us back up again. We've just been riding off each other's success. Every time we'd see the girls win or one of the guys do something awesome, the whole team just lifted again. It was pretty inspiring to be around."