Booth aiming to sit in the ‘hot seat’

Otago downhiller Calum Booth shows some flare during a practice run at Signal Hill yesterday...
Otago downhiller Calum Booth shows some flare during a practice run at Signal Hill yesterday ahead of the Oceania Mountainbike Championships in Dunedin this weekend. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Leading Otago downhiller Calum Booth caught the bug eight years ago while watching the best riders in Oceania tear down Signal Hill.

According to his mother, Mountain Biking Otago president Kristy Booth, he got his first mountain bike a few days later.

And so began the 18-year-old’s quest to go downhill really, really fast.

Tomorrow, he will get an opportunity to match his skills against the best in Oceania.

The Oceania Mountainbike Championships have returned to the city and Booth is competing in the elite men’s downhill category.

The event has attracted more than 200 competitors. The cross-country is being staged today, and the downhill  tomorrow afternoon.

Booth will find himself in some pretty hot company.  Sam Blenkinsop shapes as the favourite.

He has 12 years of riding behind him and the 29-year-old has been the country’s leading downhiller for the last decade. The gravity rider has seven top 10 world championship finishes, including a bronze medal in France in 2011.

Fellow Cantabrian Rupert Chapman and Taranaki brothers Ed and Wyn Masters are worth keeping an eye on, and Wellington’s Bryn Dickerson was runner-up last year.

But Booth knows the track as well as anyone. He helped build some of the new sections, including the last jump. The teenager is hoping to crack the top five.

It is sort of his first Oceania Championships because he crashed during practice for the Queenstown event in 2016 and was unable to take his place in the main race.

"I had a pretty big spell last night," Booth said when asked if he was taking practice gently this time around.

"My back is pretty scratched up. I smashed my phone as well, so I’ve got no phone."

You got the feeling he was more worried about his phone than his body. But then injuries are par for the course in downhilling.

"I’ve broken quite a few bones and had some head knocks. You can’t pad every tree."

It is the thrill which keeps him coming back.

"I guess it is the reward you get when you finally get down the hill nice and fast."

The apprentice electrician struggled to list his achievements but he has won two national secondary school titles.

"That was probably the highlight,’’ the former King’s High School pupil said.

"It was wicked."

Booth believes a time of 2min 40sec will be competitive. His best time is around 2min 42sec and something around that might be enough to see him spend some time in the "hot seat".

The rider with the quickest time will sit in the hot seat until their time is eclipsed.

It is a new innovation for the event and should add an extra element for the spectators.

The women’s downhill has attracted a quality field, featuring defending champion Danielle Beecroft and Ronja Hill-Wright, who was runner-up in the event two years ago.

The cross-country will be keenly contested as well. World No 7 Anton Cooper will face some stern competition from fellow New Zealander Sam Gaze and Australia’s Dan McConnell, who has been ranked as high as No 5 in the world.

Kiwi Samara Sheppard will look to defend her Oceania title and is in top form. Her challenge is likely to come from Australians Rebecca McConnell (nee Henderson) and Holly Harris, while three-time New Zealand champion Kate Fluker is another to watch.

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