7 September 2017

Wanaka’s Snow Farm turned on near-perfect conditions for the first of three days of extreme endurance cross-country racing at the Audi quattro Winter Games NZ

Press release September 7 2017

The competition kicked off with the Freestyle Interval Start race, the first event of the Australia-New Zealand Cup (ANC) series and a chance to gain valuable career points from the International Ski Federation (FIS).

Some steep climbs made for a tough 2.5 kilometre track, with fresh snow dusting the last climb towards the finish straight, but cold temperatures made for smooth running and sun pushed through early fog to keep visibility good for the downhill turns.

In the 10 kilometre men’s race, American favourite Benjamin Lustgarten took out top honours with a time of 27 minutes and 35 seconds, closely followed by Japan’s Kaichi Naruse just 9 seconds behind, and American Brian Gregg coming in third in 28 minutes and 44 seconds.

Lustgarten felt the pain in the four-lap race. “The course was great with the fresh snow, but it was really challenging. The steep short hills really got to me in the last few kilometres and I had to push really hard on the last lap.

“I love the Winter Games and New Zealand. The people are really friendly and it’s a great environment.”

The only Kiwi entrant, Hawea Flat local Campbell Wright, skied strongly to place 20th in his first FIS race, a respectable outing by any standards, but all the more remarkable as he’s still only 15 years old.

In the women’s 5 kilometre event, world-beating American racer Jessie Diggins completed the two laps in 14 minutes and 53 seconds, just 10 seconds ahead of new Australian Barbara Jezersek, who scraped in less than a second faster than third-placed sprint specialist Sophie Caldwell (USA).

Diggins was delighted with the Snow Farm’s course. “It was phenomenal, awesome. They did so well to find all those hills — I like hills — and it was impressively hard.”

This year attracted the largest number of cross-country entrants for the Winter Games to date, with a strong contingent of world class snow sports athletes among the more than 50 competitors from nine countries.

It’s pleasing for cross-country technical director Sally Jones. “It’s great to have such good representation from around the world, and it gives local and developing nations good experience to be able to race against such high-calibre athletes.”

Tomorrow the Snow Farm sees men’s and women’s classic sprint racing, with the classic mass start running on Saturday.