French threat to Begg's dominance
Former world champion Nicole Begg will lead South Canterbury's assault on the three New Zealand Speed Skating Championships in Timaru over the New Year.
Unbeaten on the track in for a decade in New Zealand, apart from one controversial disqualification, she has dominated women's skating.
The 27-year-old does, however, face some of the country's up-and-coming skaters keen to challenge her dominance.
Three Kiwi junior team to the world championships in Argentina, Wanganui's Jessica Van Bentum and Rebecca Smith and Daina Gibbs, from Palmerston North, have come south with high hopes.
Most pressure may, however, come from Frenchwoman Deborah Marchant.
Sponsored to compete in the Tour of Timaru in mid-January, Marchant was third in the junior 10,000m points-elimination and fourth in the marathon in Argentina.
Timaru's Dahna Penty will be strong in the sprints and should be among the medals
In the men, the absence of world champion Peter Michael opens the field up.
Timaru's Jonathan Swindells has shown a vast improvement but Kapiti Josh Whyte, junior bronze medallist at the world championships, and Christchurch's Ollie Jones will be formidable opponents, along with the experienced Hutt Valley skater Antony Nalder.
The mens field also has a strong international flavour with Czech Republic brothers Matej and Simon Pravda, Nicolas Buehler from Switzerland and Germain A'Tirado from Colombia.
The intermediate (under 17) girls has no outright favourites so it could be the best skater on the day with Timaru's Boudine Brown, Sophie Lowen and Analiese Le Roy all good chances.
Unfortunately in the boys, Timaru's sole skater Guy McDonald is out of the country.
In the junior (under 15) girls, Tyla Smith from Temuka is hot favourite after dominating last year.
Jazmyn McAuley won the one title that Smith missed while Ariana Snook and Charlotte Clarke are chances in the long distance events.
Wanganui's Monique Cleeve and ice skater Mikayla Biggs will be competitive in the the sprints.
In the boys Oceania champion Nick Frame and Jan Kuepper (both Timaru) will be hard to beat while Mark McCormack and Keaton Swindells will also be podium contenders.
With the depth in the age-group South Canterbury will also be fielding strong relay teams.
The juvenile (under 12) girls is the biggest grade with 17 starters, including top Chinese skater Qi Miao and Manawatu's Serenity Griffith.
South Canterbury's best chances for medals are Ella Benson in the sprints and Charli Nevin in the distance races, with Tasha McAuley and Roshean O'Connor backing them up.
The Timaru quartet of Kaylum McAuley, Ryan Caldwell, Aryan Sanghvi and Hayden Teixeira will be tested by Wanganui flyer Chase Morpeth.
In the primary grade Ajay Caldwell has his first start, while in the girls, Isobel Hill is primed to become the first Chatham Islander to win a New Zealand skating title.
Pippa Nevin will be a chance along with Nicole Teixeira.
Veteran Timaru skaters Bruce Begg and Leah Caldwell line up in the masters grade.
- The Timaru Herald