Cory Hill has claimed victory at the Doctor once again, crossing the line with son Ari for his fifth career crown. PHOTOGRAPH: © Shane Myers.
THE “EMOTIONAL” FAMILY MOMENT THAT CAPPED CORY HILL’S FIFTH DOCTOR WIN
When Cory Hill claimed his first victory at the Doctor, the world’s most iconic downwind race, his life looked completely different.
It was 2015 and Hill was 26 years old. He hadn’t started dating his now-wife Llani, and there was no thought of running his own business – instead he’d spend months away from home, racing around the world.
The contrast between then and now couldn’t have been made clearer this afternoon, but one thing has remained constant throughout – his dominance of the Doctor.
Nosing his ski onto the sand at Sorrento Beach this afternoon, Hill was greeted by Llani and his three sons to celebrate his fifth race title.
It’s a record that’s unmatched, but just as special as the win itself, being able to share it with his family, crossing the line with son Ari under his arm.
“Oh, it’s emotional, right?” Hill told The Paddler.
“You become this selfish person while you’re training. To have these experiences with your family and with your kids, it’s just awesome.
“I got to carry Ari, Lenny probably doesn’t understand, but Coda loves the medals and the trophies. It’s a full family-affair now.
“Llani has had the kids now for two weeks by herself, and that’s really tough.
“So when i’m paddling, I draw a lot of motivation from them… I’m here to do the best I can for my family.”
Of his five Doctor victories, today could well be his most impressive.
After a week of record-breaking heatwave conditions in Perth, the record-breaking field of 700 paddlers setting out from Rottnest Island found little respite on the water.
It was hot and it was flat. Although the wind swung to the right direction, blowing out of the southwest, it did so with such little force that there was marginal assistance for paddlers.
With Race One again putting $2,500 on both the men’s and women’s ‘hot spot’, the speed from the start was always going to be electrifying.
Two-time Olympian, Australia’s Riley Fitzsimmons, claimed the men’s honour ahead of another Olympian, Canada’s Simon McTavish and former World Champion Nicky Notten.
But for Hill, the 1.2 kilometre turning marker only served to signal the start of his race.
Within three kilometres, he was at the front of the field.
And from there, he never looked back.
“I actually don’t know when I got away,” he says.
“I just maintained that pace and knew I was getting away. I thought, if I can keep doing 3:45 and 3:50 kilometre splits, then i’ll win it because I got away doing that pace.
“Then it was just a game of consistency. When I got to the Centaur Marker, I told myself I was allowed 4:00 splits, because I thought I was ahead by about one minute.”
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By the time he reached the shores of Sorrento, that gap was much larger.
After a moment with those who matter most to him, Hill crossed the line in a time of 1 hour, 48 minutes and 4 seconds.
That was almost two minutes ahead of another Gold Coast local, Tom Norton (1:49:47), with German Gordan Harbrecht (1:50:16) banking the best result of his international career to finish third.
Josh Fenn (1:50:50) took another step up the podium to claim fourth, while New Zealand ironman Cory Taylor (1:51:00) produced arguably the performance of the day to climb inside the top five.
After years of challenging, Jemma Smith (2:00:52) broke through for her first Doctor victory in the women’s race, ahead of defending champion Danielle McKenzie (2:02:42) and Michelle Burn (2:03:47).
Hill is known to produce his best paddling in November, but even by those lofty standards, what he’s produced in 2023 has been extraordinary.
In the past month, the 34 year-old has won the 20 Beaches, Hong Kong Dragon Run and West Coast Downwinder, all of which were for at least the fourth time in his career.
It also goes a long way to moving past the disappointment of last year, when despite winning the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week point score, Hill finished fourth in the Doctor.
“You always have the intention to win, but sometimes things just don’t go to plan.” Hill reflects.
“I did really well throughout the week last year but came up short in the Doctor… and I didn’t like that.
“In the back of my mind, I always want to win this race. This is my favourite of the year. It’s my Grand Final, my Super Bowl.”
“Everything I set out for has been achieved, and that makes me really happy.”
It wasn’t the result Tom Norton had dreamed of, but it is one he’s proud of.
His second place is his best finish in the Doctor, and comes with wins in both of the Dr Benjamin Hewitt Sunset Surfski Series races.
Combined, it saw Norton claim the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week point score.
“Yeah, i’m pretty happy,” Norton says. “I would’ve loved to have won today, but Cory was just way too good.
“I did the best I could. It definitely wasn’t a close race, I’m stoked to have come second.”
It’s a feeling shared by Gordan Harbrecht.
After taking plenty of lessons from his first trip to Australia for last year’s Shaw and Partners WA Race Week, the German was the most consistent performer over the week.
He finished in the top three of every race, an incredible feat given the size and depth of the field.
“I’m broken now,” he laughs. “But I feel good. I’m happy with my podium today.
“I couldn’t do more. Cory was flying and Tommy was really strong and consistent.
“Most of the fast guys were in the race today. I felt good. I’ll take some recovery time over the next few days and get ready for the last big dance this year.
“It was a hard week of racing, so I’m really happy to be on all four podiums, outside of the Dash for Cash. I have my head held high.”
While traditionally the Doctor provides an extraordinary end to the racing season, this year, there is still one major race left.
The ICF Ocean Racing World Championships will be held next Saturday from Fremantle to Scarborough Beach, in what is the first time Australia has hosted the event.
Hill has the opportunity to seal one of the greatest run of results the sport has ever seen, and also become the first paddler to win three ICF world titles.
But that slice of history isn’t a consideration.
“I actually haven’t thought of it like that,” he says.
“My goal was always to get to this time of year and be consistent in my training, and then the results will naturally come.
“Next week it looks like we’ll get a lot of wind and i’m really excited to take on another challenge of racing.”