HILL BREAKS HOODOO WITH VICTORY AT SHAW AND PARTNERS NINE MILE RACE
When Cory Hill won 20 Beaches in 2019, completing a clean-sweep that included Hong Kong’s Dragon Run, the WA Race Week and The Doctor, he was typically grateful.
“You’re not guaranteed to have another win, so you’ve got to treasure each one,” he commented at the time.
But as grounded as the two-time World Champion is, even he didn’t imagine that his next victory would take two and a half years to arrive.
“I think when I was saying that I was under the assumption I would actually have more,” he laughs.
Hill’s winless run was brought to an end this afternoon at the Shaw and Partners Nine Mile in Forster, the third round of the Australian Ocean Racing Series.
In a technical 15 knot south-easterly wind, blowing almost side-on across the right shoulder, Hill (53:10) produced an impressive performance to finish ahead of Mackenzie Hynard (54:36) and Riley Fitzsimmons (54:47).
“After so long between drinks, it just made me think, ‘How good is that?’ It feels really good again.”
“I’m savouring the moment, it’s really cool. And it’s my first one with little Ari boy [Hill’s son] here too.
“You have new stresses in life, even on these trips too – screaming kids in the guy, how do you feel with them while preparing for a race.
“But you don’t know you’re doing something right until you do it right, so hopefully this is the start of something good.”
The first of two races in the Shaw and Partners Forster Race Weekend, the Nine Mile served up drama at every turn.
With the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships held just two weeks ago, it’s no surprise that the pace was on early.
Brothers Tom and Sam Norton lead the field of 129 paddlers through the opening few kilometres, with Hill on their tail.
That was, until they started veering onto a shallower line directed into the coast.
“We call it the ‘Tommy Norton line’ because he takes it so often, but they must have got caught racing each other and catching runs further in,” Hill says.
“I decided to stay out, but to be honest, I don’t know when I passed them or even if I was faster.
“That was the only disappointing thing about the race today – I don’t know where I am against Tom still, so I’m looking forward to having a hit-out again tomorrow.”
While Hill surged clear, there was carnage behind.
The hopes held by the Norton brothers were dashed when they were caught out in the wave zone approaching the final headland, after drifting into shore.
But it was on the finish line at Black Head beach where the most action unfolded.
Michael Booth and Mackenzie Hynard were neck-and-neck battling for second place when a wave stood up.
Hynard opted to pull off, while Booth powered ahead – and unfortunately, directly into rocks.
Michael Booth was battling Mackenzie Hynard for second place when his podium hopes were dashed by rocks at the finish line.
He recovered to finish fourth, although his boat wasn’t as lucky. Several paddlers suffered the same fate, with one boat described as “irreparable.”
Hill was relieved to avoid the drama, but knows his job is not done.
“For me, tomorrow is still the day,” he admits, speaking about the 20 kilometre Forster Ocean Classic.
“Today is a great confidence boost and it shows where I am… but it’s still about tomorrow.”
Danielle McKenzie continued her sensational – and undefeated – start to the 2022 AORS, claiming victory in the women’s division.
The form guide placed her as the favourite – but the 2019 World Champion didn’t feel like it before the start.
“It’s the first time I’ve picked up a paddle since the Aussies’ Taplin final and I literally just jumped straight on, no warm up,”
“So mentally, I found today pretty challenging.”
That’s due largely to the presence of Jemma Smith.
The pair have an enthralling history of racing head-to-head. Their most recent hit-out at the Aussies saw McKenzie win the Open Women’s Ski by a mere metre over Smith.
“Jemma got on super strong and started punching into the wind… she was going much stronger than I liked so I just turned with the wind and went,” McKenzie says.
“I know my strength is chasing runners, so I decided to get to work and milk that as much as possible… and it sort of helped me get away.”
Unlike the men’s race, that decision paid off for McKenzie.
She went on to finish 20th overall in a time of 58:56 ahead of Smith (1:00:57) and three-time Australian Ironwoman champion Georgia Miller (1:03:21) in third after sitting in an ocean ski for the first time this week.
However, like Hill, McKenzie isn’t satisfied with today’s win.
“Tomorrow is a different race,” she says. “Tomorrow is a long race and one that we definitely haven’t trained for in a long time.”
“At the same time, today does give you a bit of confidence heading into tomorrow, just knowing my skills are still there… hopefully there is a bit of wind, fingers crossed.”