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Richard Ussher wins 2008 Routeburn Classic

Lisa Nilsen - 16/05/08

International multisporter Richard Ussher made a prolific return to the Routeburn Classic yesterday (Saturday 10 May), winning his fourth top title as he competed against 207 other runners in the iconic 38km alpine race.

Ussher running where the track runs through snow Ussher running in the bush section
Ussher running where the track runs through snow
Photo credit: Deborah Joyce, Magic Memories
Click here to view a larger version
Ussher running in the bush section
Photo credit: Deborah Joyce, Magic Memories
Click here to view a larger version

Ussher has won every Classic he's competed in, this time netting first place in 2hr:55min:30sec. He looked relaxed as he crossed the finish line in front of around 75 spectators gathered on the sunny autumn morning.

Contention for the winning spot was expected to be close, as 2007 winner and Queenstown multisporter Jim Hawkridge started the race well. At the Mackenzie Hut (about a third of the way into the race) his pace dropped however, and the gap between him and Ussher grew.

First time Classic runner Jacob Roberts, an experienced multisporter from Christchurch, showed competitive form from the outset, hot on Ussher's heels tracking alongside Hawkridge and orienteering champion Phil Wood from Auckland.

All eyes were on the finish line to see who would follow Ussher. Roberts placed second in 2hr:58min:45sec and Wood came a close third in 3hr:02min:31sec. Hawkridge placed fourth with a time of 3hr:06min:19sec.

"I thought that Jim and Jacob may catch me up, so I kept having the occasional glance back on the bridges," said Ussher.

"With my current form and the race conditions I wasn't really thinking about breaking any records. This is my old stomping ground, I lived here for 12 years so I always enjoy coming back. The Routeburn Classic is one of the most scenic runs in the world and I always like to show my support," he added.

Roberts said he was very pleased with his time.

"It's always hard to keep up with an athlete who competes full time like Richard, but I came here to race and wanted to get as close to winning as I could. This was my first time running the Routeburn and it was going to be the only time, but think I may have to reconsider that. The track is absolutely beautiful and it's an incredible setting," said Roberts.

Craig Barrett, former Olympic 50km walker, was pitched as the dark horse of the race but proved to be on excellent form, placing eighth overall in 3hrs:25min:47sec.

The women's race was wide open after Elina Ussher, who holds the record for fastest female winner (3hr:30min:58sec in 2006) withdrew due to illness at the start of the week.

In the end it was Eveline Coombe from Wanaka who crossed the finish to rapturous applause in 3hr:38min:22sec, taking the title of overall female winner.

Evelline Coombe
Evelline Coombe
Photo credit: Deborah Joyce, Magic Memories
Click here to view a larger version

Kristina Crane placed second in a time of 3hr:44min:35sec, closely followed by a dynamic duo of Aimee Finlay and Kate Prebble who crossed the finish line raising joined triumphant hands, sharing equal third place in 3hr:53min:43sec.

Event director Evan McWhirter, of Good Times Events, said it was fantastic to see a full field of familiar faces each year.

"People return year after year bringing along a group of their mates to partake. It gives the whole event the feeling of a giant family reunion of sorts. It makes for a brilliant weekend of entertainment for everyone, from the athletes to the marshals and sponsors. We all have a great time, and the sunshine is always a welcome participant, no one out there minds that," said McWhirter.

"It's cool just to see people have a great time and run through a back drop that looks like a post card. It's the stuff of dreams really. I know everyone will be back for more action and humour in the 09 Classic, striving to improve their times."

Over 250 people a mixture of athletes and support crew turned out for the event's celebration dinner and prize giving at Queenstown's Skyline Gondola Restaurant last night.

"The Skyline prize giving function was just good old fashioned fun. That to me is the essence of the Routeburn Classic," he added.

Overall Category Placings:

Peak Performers Men (18-39yrs)
1 Richard Ussher 2:55:30
2 Jacob Roberts 2:58:45
3 Phil Wood 3:02:31

Peak Performers Women (18-39yrs)
1 Kristina Crane 3:44:35
2 Aimee Finlay 3:53:43
3 Kate Prebble 3:53:43

Masters Men (40-49yrs)
1 Brett Leyden 3:08:48
2 Tim Graham 3:32:27
3 David Brinson 3:42:38

Masters Women (40-49yrs)
1  Eveline Coombe 3:38:22
2  Korina Somerville 4:23:06
3  Susan Fleming 4:34:29

Legends Men (50-59yrs)
1 Dave McLean 3:40:34
2 Blair Bermingham 3:54:38
3 Peter Ruygrok 4:03:16

Legends Women (50-59yrs)
1 Margaret McMillan 4:57:23
2 Helen Markham 5:50:05

Gurus Men (60+)
1 Stuart Cochrane 5:05:12

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