NORTON AND McKENZIE PASS SEASON-OPENING “TEST” WITH BRIDGE TO BEACH VICTORIES
Tom Norton and Danielle McKenzie both viewed the Bridge to Beach as an early season “test”.
And after powering clear to claim the men’s and women’s titles in the first race of the Shaw and Partners Australian Ocean Racing Series, it’s one they passed with flying colours.
The pair were quickest across the 10-kilometre course, followed by more than 400 paddlers on what was a spectacular Sydney morning.
The harbour sparkled under clear skies and a breathless wind, creating one of the most picturesque instalments the event has seen.
For competitors, this also meant hard work.
Norton led the men’s field from the start, quickly breaking clear with Canadian sprint kayak Olympian and Sydney product Simon McTavish.
Chasing on a shallower line was a pack containing the likes of Mitchell Trim, Cory Hill, Oscar Jones, Sam Djodan and Casey Haynes.
While taking a wider line was Luke Morrison and Greg Tobin – a decision which paid dividends when the double ski crews motored through.
It made for an enthralling dice into Manly Wharf.
Norton (42:26) finished clear of Morrison (43:03) and Hill (43:10) to stand on top of the podium with a dominant performance.
“I’m pretty spent, I went hard the whole way,” he told The Paddler.
“It’s hard to get the gap, so once you get the gap, you have to go and make it count, because you’ll kick yourself if it all gets bunched up again and it’s wasted.
“Simon gave me one lead and it helped, then after that I kind of got into a rhythm and kept going.
“I wanted to use this as a test being the first one of the season… so I’m pretty happy with how it all went.”
More valuable to Norton than victory is the validation that he’s on the right path.
With $350,000 on this year’s Shaw and Partners Australian Ocean Racing Series, a full international field will travel down under for the showpiece races at the end of the year.
The Tasmanian is well aware that, if he is to win those events too, the work must begin now.
“You definitely can’t ease up, ever,” he admits.
“You have to be training with purpose and making everything count, because there’ll always be someone there to jump when you’re not at your best.”
“We just have so much depth, and we’re still missing people here today. The sport is growing and growing, and it’s just getting tougher and tougher.
“I’m not going to lie, I was nervous coming into it because it’s not like any other year. I wondered, ‘Have I done enough? Where am I at?’
“I was happy to get the result with the amount of work I’ve done so far… but this is just the start, really.”
Danielle McKenzie’s victory unfolded in an almost identical fashion.
The defending champion broke her rivals in the opening kilometre, and like Norton, she never looked back.
McKenzie (46:29) opened a sizeable gap over Georgia Laird (48:17) and another Canadian Olympian in Madeline Schmidt (48:33).
“It’s obviously been a while since we’ve done a bit of racing in the surfski, so the first one of the season you never really know what’s going to happen,” McKenzie says.
“At the start of the race I was really unsure about it. There were three or four really, really strong girls out there who could take in on their day.
“I got a run and kept working it, then it turned into a second run… you just have to take your opportunities.
“I didn’t turn around and just kept my head down, and that gave me the strength to get home.”
“Any girl out there is strong enough to paddle themselves around the course, so that’s what I did.”
McKenzie admits the margin of her win came as somewhat of a surprise.
The 2019 World Champion has spent the past few months focusing on her surf ironwoman career – and it’s taken a toll.
“I have been fatigued over the past few weeks,” she says.
“I mean, we’re athletes, we’re human, it does happen. It’s just something you have to work through.
“In your mindset, you just have to have confidence and believe in yourself… it’s just about not giving up and making it home.”
“Someone said to me that it’s not about winning, it’s about claiming those little battles out there throughout the race, and that’s so true.
“At different moments in the race you feel good, or bad or tired… it’s just about being in the moment.”
The near-record size of the field today created fierce competition across the divisions.
Cade Barnes (45:13) edged out Ben Constable (45:37) and Dane Sloss (45:43) to win the Over 40 men’s title, while Trudi Barnes (54:16) beat Fiona Tschaut (55:58) and Mandy Dean (56:42) for the Over 40 women’s crown.
In the Over 50’s, Jimmy Walker (46:01), Marty Kenny (46:38) and Bruce Hopkins (48:28) finished as the men’s top three, with Andrean Duffy (55:22), Sara Hawkins (57:02) and Lovaine Mackie (58:31) took out the women’s podium.
Josh Murphy (46:08) won the men’s Under 21 division over Zach Morris (47:00) and Eli Newton, but it was Harrison Taurins (45:03) who was the fastest junior, on his way to the Under 17 title.
Eliza Johnson (51:25) took out the women’s Under 21 race, ahead of Eliza Monnock (54:14) and Ashleigh Watts (55:45). Elizabeth Tyson (55:04) won the Under 17’s.
‘Team Elouera’, made up of Nathan Neale and Lachy Galea (41:25), took out the men’s doubles race, finishing as the first crew across the line, with ‘Team De Vos & Saffron Blonde Express’, Ellie Saffron and Eleonora De Vos, winning the women’s.
Two of paddling’s most recognisable names teamed up to claim victory in the mixed doubles – Guy Leech and Candice Warner.
It all combined to create a memorable day for race organisers.
Dean Gardiner declaring it was “one of our best”.
“Everything fell into place. The weather, the timings behind the scenes, we were very happy with the race.” Gardiners says.
“There’s nothing at all that I could say didn’t work well for us.”