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There were no sheep in sight but the subzero temperatures resulted in many skiers and spectators wearing merino clothing at the 2017 Merino Muster at the Snow Farm near Wanaka at the weekend.
More than 200 skiers from 19 countries competed in the 42km marathon, 21km half-marathon and 7km cross-country ski races held high up on the Pisa Ranges on Saturday as part of the Winter Games. The temperature was a chilly -5decC and the sun struggled to shine through the thick fog for the start of the 42km race.
Although the sun did not break through until the finishing stages, organisers said the times recorded were some of the fastest in the 23-year history of the race.
First of the 85 skiers across the line in a blanket finish to the 42km marathon was American Simeon Hamilton in 1hr 40min 33sec. Second was fellow American Brian Gregg in 1hr 40min 34sec and third Australian Phillip Bellingham in 1hr 40min 35sec.
The women’s race was won by Olympian Jessica Diggins, in 1hr 51min 42sec from fellow Americans Hannah Dreissigacker in 2hr 1min 59sec and Britta Clark in 2hr 9min 6sec.
It is the third year the 42km Merino Muster has been part of the WorldLoppet international sports federation of cross-country skiing marathons after the signature race became one of the 20 WorldLoppet races around the world. WorldLoppet president Juha Viljamaa, of Finland, was at the Snow Farm on Saturday and wished the competitors of all three races well before he himself competed in the 21km Snow Rake.
Afterwards he described the race as "nice and cool and ... run very professionally."
With the Winter Olympics PyeongChang, South Korea, early next year, the Merino Muster was also one of the last opportunities for athletes to prepare.
Entrants from Australia, Wales, Germany, France, Switzerland, Finland, the US, Japan, Argentina, Singapore, Russia, Italy, Canada Hong Kong, Estonia and Morocco competed. The US Paralympic team members competed in the 21km Snow Rake on their sit skis.
Organisers said many of the more than 127 competitors who took part in the 21km Snow Rake and the 7km Straggle Muster did it "just for fun."
Phillipa Dobson-Brown, of Arrowtown, and Liz Maluschsig, of Wanaka, both skied the 7km Straggle Muster race dressed as Brazilian dancers. Dobson-Brown said last year she wore a Little Bo Peep outfit "but this year I thought we needed a complete switch around, and a Brazilian dancer was much more exciting and slightly sexy," she said.
Maluschsig said she had skied at the Snow Farm for the past 20 years and had "lost count" of how many Merino Musters she had participated in.
She said it was a "fun race" and dressing up made it a "a really enjoyable day."
John-Paul Lilbyne, of Arrowtown, delighted the crowd of New Zealand spectators and skiers by wearing a kiwi costume. He said he wore it every year skiing and last year wore it in a 90km race in Sweden.
- Kerrie Waterworth