Elliott’s skill, confidence on kayak leg game-changer

Hamish Elliott finally has his hands on the Coast to Coast Longest Day trophy. PHOTO: WAYNE PARSONS
Hamish Elliott finally has his hands on the Coast to Coast Longest Day trophy. PHOTO: WAYNE PARSONS
Wanaka has another champion to add to its impressive stable of elite athletes after Hamish Elliott won the world championship of multisport, the Coast to Coast Longest Day, on Saturday.

The 29-year-old proved perseverance can eventually bring results with virtually an all-the-way victory and a catch-me-if-you can approach to the gruelling 33km alpine stage, on which he built a 7min lead on the field.

Only New Zealand ironman representative Ben Phillips (Canterbury) and Australian Alex Hunt fired warning shots at his attempt to lift the prize.

Most were already aware of his strength on the alpine run but it was his 67km kayak down the Waimakairiri River that caught many by surprise as he showed off his improved skills.

"I have James Munro to thank for building up my confidence and skill in the boat", he said.

Elliott transitioned out of the kayak at Gorge Bridge with his lead increasing to 8min, all but locking in victory.

But plenty of unknowns can come into play on the 70km ride to New Brighton, as a determined Hunt was aware as he set about hauling in Elliott in an attempt to become the first Australian to win the title since John Jacoby in 1993.

His strength on the bike reduced the deficit to just over 2min at the finish, as Elliott cruised through the stage to lift the tape in 10hr 48min 53sec.

Hunt was second in 10hr 51min 17sec.

Phillips, who attempted to take the race to Elliott early on the run stage, finished third in 11hr 2min 3sec. Defending champion Sam Manson (Canterbury) was fourth in 11hr 4min 39sec.

It was a long seven-year journey to the top for Elliott who first contested the event in 2017, finishing third in the two-day individual event.

But the Longest Day has showed chinks in his armoury — he finished seventh in 2018 and fifth last year.

It was the 2020 race that almost brought about his demise as it was only by chance he was discovered lying in dense bush suffering from hypothermia.

Fortunately for Elliott, videographer Struan Purdie and photographer Iain McGregor were being helicoptered from Goat Pass to Klondyke, when by chance they opted to have the craft land in a small clearing about halfway down.

When McGregor noticed through his long-distance lens something unusual on the ground about 1km away from them, they decided to investigate, and found Elliott chilly white and cold, trembling and incoherent.

They carried him back to the helicopter and got him shipped to safety.

After this near-death experience Elliott was nervous about returning to the event but was encouraged to be a member of a team for the inaugural Longest Day team category.

This reignited a desire to return to the Longest Day race as an individual last year.

"It’s a race you keep coming back to", Elliott said at the finish on Saturday.

"You’re never going to master it at your first jump. I’ve had a good crack at it in the last few years and there’s been weaknesses that people have pointed out.

"So I’ve reached out to mates and especially James Munro that put me in the form that I put together today."

Elliott went on to praise the inspiration he receives from fellow athletes.

"Between myself and the guy that finishes at midnight tonight there’s no difference between us. We’ve both achieved the same thing to be fair."

As was the case for Elliott seven years ago, this year’s two-day individual event witnessed a wave of future champions when elite junior Finn McKenzie (Blenheim) continued from where he left off on Friday’s first day, breaking the tape at New Brighton in 11hr 39min 51sec.

Sam King (Canterbury) retained second place from the first day, but not before making McKenzie fully aware of his presence, finishing in 11hr 43min 19sec.

Campbell Gray (Taradale) proved he has bounced back from a near-death experience 18 months ago during which he was hit in the head by a hockey ball that caused a brain bleed.

After 18 months of intensive rehabilitation, the Taranaki Terror has bounced back in multisport competition, finishing third in the two-day event in 11hr 44min 17sec behind McKenzie and King.