World number four Alexander Legkov lunged across the finish line just three centimetres ahead of his Russian teammate Ilia Chernousov to post an enthralling win in the Kangaroo Hoppet, the closing event in this year’s Suzuki National Snowsport Championships, at Victoria’s Falls Creek today.
The 30-kilometre epic cross country ski event, which was shortened from the usual 42-kilometres due to heavy snow and strong wind, was one of the closest finishes seen in the race’s 22-year history. Third place went to Ivan Alypov, giving Russia all three podium places. The Russian domination also extended to fourth place with Alexey Chernousov, who was ahead of Australia’s Alex Almoukov in fifth.
The huge crowd that was three or four people deep along the last 500 metres of the grueling course witnessed a dramatic tussle for victory as the two Russians refused to yield. But in the end it was the incredible athleticism of Legkov that won the day and the admiration of the crowd.
Legkov and Chernousov clearly lived up to their world top 10 rankings by breaking away from the leading pack as the athletes reached the six kilometre stage. Australia’s four-time Hoppet winner, Ben Derrick, lead the field early in the race through most of the Sun Valley stage, but then the two Russians found another gear and literally sprinted away from their rivals.
Much to the amazement of spectators and the 1100 competitors from 27 nations entered in the Kangaroo Hoppet, Legkov and Chernousov maintained their hectic pace for most of the remaining 24 kilometres.
With about a 200-metre gap separating the two Russians from the next lot of athletes, it was never in doubt that either Legkov or Chernousov would cross the line first. The only unanswered question was which of the two top 10 ranked Russians would stand supreme.
After the lead changed a few times throughout the last 24 kilometres, Legkov applied enormous pressure to his teammate, but Chernousov refused to give in, staying with his higher ranked countryman to almost cause an upset.
Legkov drew on every morsel of energy left in his body and, with his face contorted with physical exertion, found a way to hold out Chernousov as they greeted the judges.
With Almoukov’s impressive fifth place, Australia occupied three of the first 10 places, with Callum Watson grabbing seventh and four-time winner Ben Derrick adding an eight place to his enviable Hoppet record.
Australia had additional reasons to be pleased with the results of home grown athletes with dual Hoppet champion Esther Bottomley finishing third in the women’s event behind Sweden’s Maria Graefnings and Russian Marina Chernousova in second.
The Swede started the race as a hot favourite, but after missing the start and dropping back in the field, Graefnings was forced to muster all of her resilience and talent to work her way back into the race. It was not until the 10-kilometre mark that Graefnings snatched the lead from Chernousova. A miscalculation by the Swede may has spurred her on to victory, as she thought Canadian Brooke Darlington was in the lead at the time she passed Chernousova. As it turned out, the Canadian was in fourth place, a position she maintained as she crossed the line.
The third place for Bottomley has secured the local athlete a win in the Australia New Zealand Cup, an accolade that also provides direct entry into next season’s World Cup events throughout the northern hemisphere, starting in November.
The Kangaroo Hoppet is the first stage in a 16-event series, which attracts 125,000 athletes throughout 16 countries and four continents, making it one of the most highly regarded cross country events in the world.
Press Release Kangaroo Hoppet