Sth Canty odds-on to keep NZ skating title
South Canterbury will be a red hot favourite to retain the Unity Trophy as New Zealand's top speed skating club.
The club is going for three in a row at the national championships in Auckland from December 30 to January 4.
With 36 travelling, the club has strength throughout the grades, with the exception of the senior men.
In the senior women, Nicole Begg is getting back to top form and her toughest opponent will be Wanganui skater and world junior representative Jessica van Bentum. Slovakian Martina Karabova, who is based in Timaru for the summer, could also be in the mix.
One of the rising stars of the South Canterbury club, Judah Kelly, has elected to move up into the under 17 grade from the juniors.
Both Kelly and Dahna Penty have been showing good time-trial form and are capable of going as fast as the seniors, while Analiese Le Roy is among the top half dozen distance skaters in the country and should be among the medals.
Cassidy Oldfield is a very smooth skater while Laura Kuepper has also won sprint medals previously at national championships, so they will be contenders too. Their toughest opposition will be Wanganui's Rebecca Smith, who like Penty and Le Roy has been nominated for this year's world junior championships.
Oceania cadet champion Guy McDonald takes his first step up into intermediate and is likely to be among the medals.
Timaru-based German Alex Emele is, however, the skater to beat, though while overseas visitors can win the medals, the title goes to the first Kiwi.
The junior girls' grade is the most competitive with six South Canterbury skaters and three from Wanganui all capable of winning.
It is a very healthy state when a winner can't be picked but Temuka's Tyla Smith has been showing the benefit of her recent trip to Chinese and Korean race meetings, along with the very determined Jazmyn McAuley.
Sophie Lowen, Boudine Brown and Ariana Snook are fresh from racing in Wellington and will be in the mix, along with Leah McDonald, and could return with individual medals.
Ayla Preston and Neve O'Connor are first year in the grade but they will benefit from the experience.
Two of the likely title winners in the junior boys, Nick Frame and Jan Kuepper, are both racing with arms in plaster. Frame was hit by a car coming out of a driveway while he was on his skateboard while Kuepper broke his thumb playing cricket.
Both were in excellent form and should still be near the front. They will be joined by clubmates Finley O'Connor and Mark McCormack.
Auckland's Zachery Biggs, who was crowned the Australasian junior short track ice speed champion, is regarded as New Zealand's best junior short-track skater.
It is his final year as a junior but first year junior Kuepper could give him a fright.
In the juvenile grade, Ella Benson is South Canterbury's best hope, up against reigning champion Mikayla Biggs of Auckland, while Wanganui's Renee Tears will also be tough.
In the sprints, Charlotte Clarke and Charli Nevin have been going fast while the much-improved Erin Hall could feature in the long races. However, all are likely to receive a big hurry-up from the Chinese skater Qi Miao.
In the primary grade South Canterbury has six skaters competing and should dominate. Tasha McAuley lines up as the fastest and strongest, while Eden Preston, Amy Dunn and Samantha Clarke will also be competing hard for the medals. Pippa Nevin and Anya O'Connor are the youngest ones in the grade but could surprise.
The Timaru Herald