Ussher's views provoke Judkins eruption

GREG FORD
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2013
Richard Ussher and Robin Judkins
Fairfax NZ
HAPPIER TIMES: Richard Ussher, left, and Robin Judkins share a joke after Ussher took first prize in the Coast to Coast race in 2006.

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Defending Coast to Coast champion Richard Ussher has hit out at the state of the race, saying it is "shrinking" and that it "may be time" for race owner Robin Judkins to step aside and allow new people to run the event.

The multiple race champion levelled 10 key criticisms of the race which he says must be fixed if it is to return to its pomp of a decade ago.

The most controversial point questioned whether as race director Judkins was as motivated as he once was.

"I have always had pretty good relationship with Robin. He has never really had a go at me or anything like that," Ussher said.

"I guess I have always tried not to do anything to incur his wrath either.

''But I was sort of thinking about what I would say if someone asked me the questions you have and I just think I really love the race; think it is a great race.

It's done a lot of great things for the sport, but I think it is actually lagging behind now and there are things that could be done to make it a better experience and get the field back to full capacity.

"It disappoints me that the race does not seem to be growing in popularity, and if anything seems to be shrinking.

"Without Robin, the race would not exist and that is what you have to balance when you are trying to look at the things that could be improved.

"But the race is over 30 years old and things are still done how [they were] 20 years ago in a lot of ways.

"Who knows what would happen if someone [was involved] that had the passion for it that Robin did 30 years ago.

"I am sure, naturally over time, the passion can wane slightly, even though he probably sounds as enthusiastic as he did 30 years ago on the start and finish line.

"But I am sure in between times it is probably not the motivating force for him on a day-to-day basis that it was, and maybe he just needs a slightly newer team that has the energy that it did have a few years ago."

Judkins greeted Ussher's criticisms as open sedition, with Ussher's reservations about Judkins' wrath turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"How could he do this to me the week before the race?" Judkins said, before the rest of a 13-minute interview, best described as a spontaneous eruption, became unfit for print.

Judkins vowed to have words with Ussher, and the athlete said he would welcome the chance to discuss his concerns as he had taken the trouble to write them down and send them to "race organisers" in the past but had never heard back.

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"I think all the athletes have their own views, but I don't think I will be in the minority,'' he said.

"I think most of them would agree all the little details are missing that you get at top international multisport events.

"It is an amazing course, but the event can only survive on that for so long.

''I don't think it is dying by any means, but definitely things that could be done to drag it up to date with where endurance racing on a global scale is going could be done.

"It is such a massive market these days that you need to provide more than what it is does. It does not represent huge value for money any more.

"It is over $1000 for the entry fee, and that is probably putting a lot of people off too.

"It is cheaper to enter an ironman event and you get a much more professionally organised race.''

The issue of the race's prizemoney has been raised before by previous high-profile athletes.

Judkins admits he pays under market value. This year's Longest Day winner will get $10,000.

Ussher said the prizemoney was a marked improvement on a decade ago but was still a bone of contention for athletes, especially those who finish second and third.

"I think it is $1400 for second, and that is a token amount for a runner-up who devotes as much time to the race as the person who finishes first," he said.

And there is every chance the winner on Saturday, when the race is run for the 31st time, will be Ussher, making for an interesting photo opportunity when he and Judkins come face to face on Sumner Beach.

The adage in entertainment that all publicity is good will probably assuage any lasting Judkins grudge. After all, he is the master of courting publicity.

Ussher said he did not offer his thoughts without serious consideration and they were designed to spark debate about the future of the event.

"I have no idea what [Judkins] will say and maybe I won't be racing on Saturday," Ussher said.

"It is definitely not a personal attack on him by any means, or on the race. It is just when you spend your life travelling around the world and doing big international races and you see things, lots of little things, and think, 'Man, that would be a real winner at that race, that would work really well there'.

"If they really want to get the race back to capacity, where there was a waiting list to enter, it might be as simple as canvassing 50 people who have those experiences to see what sort of ideas crop up."

THE USSHER FILE

Defending Coast to Coast champion Richard Ussher has identified 10 changes he sees as key to revitalising the race:

1. A reduction in race fees. It costs some competitors over $1000 to enter.

2. More prizemoney (the Longest Day winner receives $10,000).

3. Athletes' bibs are too big and block personal sponsors on their race uniforms.

4. Athletes who file their race entry first are rewarded with a shorter path to their bike at the first transition. Ussher says top athletes need to be seeded, their bikes placed in the same vicinity to make it a "level playing field".

5. Route changes mean course records are now out of date and "irrelevant".

6. Athlete feedback is provided but not listened to.

7. The event needs to become more user-friendly for spectators, with athletes' bibs reflecting their seeding. "That way, spectators will know who is doing well in relation to each other," Ussher says.

8. More official time stations for athletes and spectators.

9. New blood and ideas at race management level needed to lift the event's profile.

10. Less focus on Robin Judkins' "zany personality''; more focus on athlete achievement.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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