The 2008 FIS Australia – New Zealand Cup (ANC) for Cross-Country Skiing will begin next weekend, kicking off with the Australian Sprint Championships at Perisher Valley on 9th August. The series then continues with three events at the Snow Farm in New Zealand, before returning to Australia for two distance events at Falls Creek on 23rd-24th August. The Continental Cup series concludes with the Kangaroo Hoppet 42km event at Falls Creek on 30th August.
The fastest local male competitors are expected to be 2007 ANC winner Paul Murray and 2006 winner Ben Sim. Murray is stronger in the sprint events, although also won the Australian 15km Freestyle title ahead of Sim in 2007. Sim has shown good form already this season, winning the 2008 30km Classic Australian Championship on July 27. New Zealand’s fastest male skier is Nat Anglem, who has been steadily improving year to year since taking up racing in 2006. Competition from other international skiers is expected to be high; with 2007 ANC runner-up Tomio Kanamaru from Japan joined by World Cup team-mates Shohei Honda and Masaaki Kozu. Skiers from Canada and USA are currently training at the Snow Farm in New Zealand, although it is uncertain which athletes may stay on for the ANC competitions.
Amongst the ladies’ local skiers the balance has swung in favour of New Zealand. 2007 ANC winner Katherine Calder has changed nation from Australia to compete for the country of her father, and she is joined on the New Zealand team by 2006 ANC winner Samantha Bondarenko and rising New Zealand skier Andi Fancy. Australia will be represented by 2006 Winter Olympian Esther Bottomley, whose best World Cup place last season was 43rd, and 21-year-old Aimee Watson, who broke through last season to take 24th place in the World U23 Championship in Malles, Italy. In the New Zealand legs of the competition at least they will face competition from strong Japanese university skiers Sumiko Ishigaki and Omori Naoko, and Swiss sprint specialist Sandra Gredig.
“We are looking forward to high quality competitions at the races in New Zealand this year,” said Finn Marsland, Australian Team Coach. “Japan is sending their strongest team yet, and our men will have their work cut out to make the podium. The women’s field will also be just about the deepest we have ever seen in ANC competition.”
The final races at Falls Creek (AUS) are also expected to be interesting, with the XC Oregon Team from the USA sending two of their best skiers Zach Violett and 2008 American Birkebeiner winner Evelyn Dong to compete in the Kangaroo Hoppet, and several Czech skiers also entered, including 2008 Dolomitenlauf winner Viktor Novotny.
Snow conditions in Australia and New Zealand are excellent right now. At the Australian cross country skiing National Team Training Centre at Falls Creek there is nearly one metre of snow covering everything, and 40-50km of trails being groomed every day. Reports and results from the 2008 ANC and other competitions from Australia and New Zealand can be seen first at: www.hoppet.com.au/xc
; Go here for the 2008 ANC Competition Schedule
Contributed by Finn Marsland