Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Multisports: Judkins tells Ussher 'buy me out if you can do better'

Judkins and Ussher yesterday. Photo / Martin Hunter
Judkins and Ussher yesterday. Photo / Martin Hunter

Robin Judkins has challenged Richard Ussher to take over the running of the Speights Coast to Coast himself if he believed he could do a better job.

The ever-colourful Judkins laughed that the five-time champion needed to put "his money where his mouth is", in response to Ussher's multiple criticisms of the event last week.

Among Ussher's 10-point plan for improving the race, he wondered if it was time for fresh faces in the race management team and if Judkins' motivation was at the same level after more than three decades at the helm.

"Is my time up?" asked a smiling Judkins. "At some stage, I will have to go, I guess - but put your money where your mouth is, Richard. I own it - you [need to] buy it; that's the guts of it. I am not elected.

"He said I should go but the only way to make me go is to buy me out. So buy me out and go do it yourself. Put your money where your mouth; if he thinks he is better at running this event, then he should do it."

Despite his volatile reputation, Judkins tried to present a balanced response to Ussher's comments, which included an opinion that the entry fee was too high (around $1000 per person), the prize money too low (winner $10,000, second place $1400) and that the race had failed to evolve.

"Richard had 10 points that he raised and there were some that I agreed with," said Judkins. "I would like to see more prize money but we are still coming out of a recession and can't do it - in the future, yes, we will."

Ussher pointed out the slightly lower relative cost of Ironman events but Judkins said it was a flawed comparison.

"Yes, [Coast to Coast] is expensive," he said. "It has always been expensive and it reflects the complexity of the event. In comparison, the Taupo Ironman is a relatively simple event with none of the logistics.

"We have 450 officials and volunteers going from one side of the country to the other using jet boats, helicopters and the like. It is mind-boggling. A true reflection without sponsorship would be an entry fee of $1500 per head, so everyone is being subsidised by a third anyway. It's an incredibly expensive event to run and we don't want to sacrifice safety for the sake of dollars."

Judkins agrees that the event needs to change and modify but points out that it already has, with the introduction of three-person team races this year and the option of doing the mountain run as a stand-alone event.

"It has to evolve and innovate," says Judkins. "He didn't mention that is what we have been doing."

"Changes have been happening - Robin is changing things," says nine-time winner Steve Gurney. "But you need to do it gradually. You have to be careful not to damage what has made this event so special."

While some have questioned the place of the new formats, there is no doubting the appeal. Having three-person teams (previously two people was the maximum) allows people to specialise in one discipline, lessening the intimidatory factor for rookies. It's easy to see the 33km mountain run becoming a fixture on the running calendar.

In reflecting on Ussher's comments, Judkins - whose life has revolved around the event since 1983 - was a mix of laughter and lament.

"Numbers have been down [before this year] but there has been a worldwide recession", says Judkins. "[Ussher] never bothered to ring me; he just went for it. Without even asking me what is going on, he goes out and slams me in the media.

"But in the end, I enjoyed his comments in a way," says Judkins. "It has made even realise what the race means and how passionate they are about it. And it's good fun; I haven't had a fight like this for so long. I used to have these amazing shit fights with [Steve] Gurney. I love a fight; I'm as competitive as they are."

Gurney, who has completed the traverse 23 times, agrees with the spirit of Ussher's opinions but struggles with the timing and the method.

"[A lot] of us who are passionate about the race have similar thoughts," says Gurney, "that it needs to freshen up and some things need to change. But it is better we talk to Robin off-air. A few of us have been doing that and he has been slowly changing things and not using the media as a public function.

"What annoyed me most was his timing; it is the busiest week of the year for Robin. [Richard] should have waited a week and done it in a more tactful way."

Ussher stresses that he was trying to be constructive in his comments and thought long and hard before airing his thoughts in a public forum.

"It was never meant to be a personal attack," says Ussher. "And I was quite nervous, thinking 'should I say what is really on my mind?' It was a revolutionary event and comes with high expectations but I don't know if it has evolved as much as it needs to.

"It is a great event - the grandaddy of them all - but there is something not quite right with the model.

"Few people say what they think," says Ussher, "which makes it hard. It is a wonderful event but it could be much better."

- Herald on Sunday

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