Dave Shepherd and Kathryn Ewels took out the Australian Sprint Championships at Benalla today, both backing up from wins at their last start on Sunday. For Ewels it was a comfortable win, but the men’s race was in doubt until the final moments.
Ewels never really looked like losing, hitting the front by the time the race reached its most technical section on the islands of Benalla’s river flats, and continuing to extend her lead through the race. Ultimately she finished 46 seconds in front, an impressive margin for a sprint race. First starter Rachel Effeney posted a time that only Ewels could beat in her best senior result yet, whilst Natasha Key showed that she is still a force to be reckoned with over the shorter distances by coming in third, just three seconds further back.
The men also had a formidable time posted early, by Nick Barrable of Great Britain. It was a time which withstood increasingly serious challenges, first from Bryan Keely, then from Simon Uppill, who was level with Barrable with four controls to go but was not quite able to match the Briton’s speed over the closing stages. Shepherd, though, went through the spectator control in front, and although he had the slightest of wobbles at the end, he was still able to finish two seconds clear. There was still one serious challenge, from Denmark’s Rune Olsen, but after going through the spectator control with a five-second lead, he lost 30 seconds on the next control and fell out of contention.
The junior women’s class was equally close. Aislinn Prendergast posted a time early and was never headed, but there was not much in it, as three others got within ten seconds of her. First Belinda Lawford fell just short, then Bridget Anderson was in front late in the course but got beaten for speed at the end. Angela Simpson came in with the fastest time but had missed a control, and then finally Laura Robertson finished fast but not quite fast enough. Lawford was second, one second ahead of Anderson and Robertson in equal third.
The junior men’s was another triumph for Max Neve, who is having an excellent week. He posted a 30-second lead and never looked like losing. There was plenty of excitement behind him, though, as the 15-year-old Oscar McNulty proved that his M21A WA Sprint Championships win was no fluke with an exceptional debut at this level. He finished second, ahead of Josh Blatchford. Leon Keely might have got second, but ran past the third-last control before doubling back and had to settle for ninth.
The NSW Stingers got enough points today to assure themselves of the senior men’s title in the SILVA National League, but several other issues remain resolved, especially the junior individual title. Lachlan Dow, Josh Blatchford and Max Neve are separated by a single point, and Aislinn Prendergast’s win today puts her close enough to Belinda Lawford to overhaul her with a win tomorrow.