HILL & McKENZIE CLAIM BIG WINS AT 20 BEACHES
Cory Hill and Danielle McKenzie were being driven by two different sources of motivation coming into the Shaw and Partners 20 Beaches Ocean Classic.
But both used it to walk away from the season-ending event as winners.
For Cory Hill, that was the disappointment of falling short at the Doctor, where his three-year undefeated run came to an end.
Hill did claim the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week pointscore – and $15,000 winner’s cheque – but left Australia’s west coast feeling somewhat unfulfilled.
This victory in Sydney helped alleviate the disappointment.
“It’s always great to finish up on a win,” Hill said.
“At this end of the season the Doctor and 20 Beaches are at the forefront of the mind, so to come away with a win at this one, and not the other… it’s much of a muchness.
“I’m happy to get one of them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the last one too… but you can’t win them all, right? You’re human.
“It feels really good. It was tough out there again in another easterly 20 Beaches – which I actually don’t mind.”
Sydney was fanned by a 20 knot southerly in the days leading up to the race, but by Saturday morning, most of its strength had disappeared.
That left the field of 250 paddlers to contend with a small, bumpy residual swell across the 20 kilometre course from Long Reef, around Barrenjoey Headland, and into Station Beach.
Just like last year’s running of the race, there was an immediate split in the field.
Most of the heavy-hitters, like Hill, Tom and Sam Norton, Gordon Harbrecht, Mackenzie Hynard and Oscar Jones chose to take what was, more-or-less, a straight line to the furthest headland.
However local paddlers Mitchell Trim, Luke Morrison and Newcastle’s Greg Tobin paddled out to sea on what was almost a 45 degree angle, to reach the southerly assistance as early as possible.
It was tight racing, with plenty of back-and-forth surges across the varying lines.
At the 13 kilometre mark, Hill and Norton found themselves side-by-side.
They shared so many close races at the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week, but this time around, Hill kicked clear.
“From there I really put the hammer down,” Hill recalled.
“I thought that if I could get my nose in front, it would be so hard to chase in those conditions.
“As soon as I got ahead, I think they’re all pushing uphill whereas I was just racing my own race.”
Hill would go on to cross the line in a time of 1 hour, 22 minutes and 18 seconds for his third race crown.
Tom Norton (1:23:14) finished second with Mackenzie Hynard (1:23:42) rounding out the top three – just seven seconds ahead of Sam Norton (1:23:49).
Northern Beaches local Oscar Jones was fifth, in what can be labelled as the most impressive result of his emerging career.
MENS TOP FIVE: From left to right – Oscar Jones (fifth), Mackenzie Hynard (third), Cory Hill (first), Tom Norton (second) and Sam Norton (fourth). PHOTOGRAPH: Allan Coker.
“I’m pretty spent,” Tom Norton said after the race.
“I was pretty fatigued from the WA Race Week, like everyone would be. But once Cory got me, and I realised he got me, it all sunk in.
“I’m glad it’s the end of the season,” he laughed.
It’s the perfect way to finish for Mackenzie Hynard, who’s endured somewhat of a rollercoaster of emotions this year.
He claimed bronze at the World Championships, but was well off the pace across the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week.
To finish third here is reassuring as much as it is rewarding.
“I’m proud of myself, I reckon.” Hynard said. “That’s probably all I can say.
I didn’t let those bad results affect the trajectory of the year and I’m so glad to finish in third spot.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Danielle McKenzie.
The New Zealander endured a challenging run of results that began at the World Championships, where she finished in second place behind Jemma Smith.
But the 2019 World Champion fought back – first at the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week, winning both the Doctor and overall pointscore, and now here at the season-ending event.
“I think I just took a huge amount of confidence from WA and I brought it here on the water,” McKenzie said.
“Not so much from the result, but I just felt a bit more confident in myself, I guess.
“As an athlete, you’re always going to have ups and downs – everyone goes through that at different stages.”
“To be honest, I only paddled twice since WA, so I didn’t do a lot of thinking about this race and I think it’s helped me to feel less pressure.
“I just got out there on the water and enjoyed it… so to come out on top at the end of it is just unreal.”
Just like the men’s race, the women’s battle was a grind.
McKenzie and Smith both flew off the start line, and as always, started going toe-to-toe.
“We sort of took it out for the first couple of kilometres, but around three kilometres in I was just like, ‘Oh, I’m in a bit of hurt here.’” Smith laughed afterwards.
“I looked at the forecast once before and didn’t look at it again, because it didn’t look all that good,” McKenzie said after the race. But there were actually runs out there and I started feeling pretty good.
“I knew that was my strength – to just keep paddling along and try to get a gap.
“I felt really good until about the last four k’s and then started hitting the wall a little bit.”
But by that point, McKenzie had done enough to claim victory.
She crossed the line in a time of 1 hour, 33 minutes and 42 seconds, ahead of Smith (1:34:38) and South African Michelle Burn (1:35:15).
Sascha Taurins (1:43:06) and Kate Regan (1:44:58) rounded out the top five.
WOMENS TOP FIVE: From left to right – Sascha Taurins (fourth), Michelle Burn (third), Danielle McKenzie (first), Jemma Smith (second) and Kate Regan (fifth). PHOTOGRAPH: Allan Coker.
It was a brave effort from Smith, who left Western Australia with COVID.
“It was really tough,” she reflected. “But I’m really happy with that paddle.
“I think over the past couple of weeks I’ve been a bit up and down.
“I’m a bit sore and everything’s a bit tired. I just didn’t quite have that sort of fourth gear to kick into today, but that’s the way it is.
“I’m just really happy to finish the year off and now have a bit of a reset over Christmas before going again next year.”
The race marked the end of Michelle Burn’s lengthy tour down under, having spent five weeks in the country to compete in Australia’s biggest events.
Her own bout of illness meant that the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week didn’t produce the results she had hoped for.
Passport delays then meant her family couldn’t join her on the east coast, but the chance to catch up with her brother-in-law and his family in Sydney meant it was still an enjoyable experience.
“It was nice today, i’m feeling so much better. It was good to feel healthy and paddle, it was fun.
“The girls had a wild start and I tried to stay with them, but I knew I would eventually blow up so I let them go.
“I managed to catch back up and found myself with Jemma at the 10 or 11 kilometre mark… but at Barrenjoey Headland she just got on a few runs and got away again.
“I’m happy though. It has been hard being away from the family – thank goodness for video calls and WhatsApp calls.
“But to travel and paddle in different parts of the world, I love it. I’ve had such a nice time and I’m so glad I came.”