Jones shows he's the man to beat

By Ken Smith

A cursory glance at the headlines might give the impression that Wanganui's speed skaters were overshadowed by their rivals at the 2013 road and track championships.

However, a careful look through the results in Palmerston North and Wanganui between January 2-7 paints a different picture.

The men's championships were dominated by youngster Ollie Jones of Valley Inline, who has now established himself as the man to beat in competition.

Jones shattered several New Zealand records which, significantly, were held by current or former world champions.

Kapiti's Josh Whyte also lowered the record in the 500m Road, which had been held by former 500m world champion Kaylon Dobbin since 1998.

It had been a source of some anguish in speed skating circles that there would not be anyone to follow the dynasty created by the Dobbin brothers, Scott Arlidge, Reyon Kaye and Peter Michael.

These results suggest a new generation's potential should not be dismissed lightly.

The return of current world champion Peter Michael for February's Banked Track Nationals will give a clearer picture of the domestic scene.

The women's competition was again ruled by Steff Challis of Valley Inline, who was unbeaten in everything except the time trial.

Challis is a sometimes underrated skater who supposedly suffers from a lack of outright speed, yet she was apparently so slow she managed to take 10 seconds off the women's 10km road points record, held by Timaru's former world champion, Nicole Begg.

And was Challis struggling when she broke a 1000m sprint record - which had stood since 2004 - by 2.5 seconds?

Wanganui's Jessica van Bentum gained in confidence as the competitions progressed - doing her world championship selection hopes no harm with a string of strong second places behind Challis in the open events.

Van Bentum was the only woman to take the race to Challis in the final open women's 3000m race indoors - losing by only a wheel on the line.

She also won a string of intermediate titles on the indoor track.

Wanganui teammate Rebecca Smith had a tougher time of things as a first year intermediate and would have been disappointed not to have challenged van Bentum at the finish of the longer events.

However, she still picked up the bronze in the open 10km points and then a surprising third place in the 1000m intermediate women's sprint behind specialists Emily van der Hayden and van Bentum.

Smith also took silver in the indoor 1500m intermediate women's race.

Her best performance, however, was reserved for the prized senior ladies' 5km road relay.

The Wanganui team of Smith, van Bentum and 50-year-old masters champion Krystine Davies were up against a class Timaru team in Van der Hayden, accomplished junior Analiese Le Roy and Timaru star Judah Kelly.

Kelly had been busy destroying the junior girls' field, breaking records and setting the fastest overall time trial times all week.

With Davies being Wanganui's ace in the hole by having too much strength for LeRoy, while van Bentum and Van der Hayden were evenly matched, Smith had the unenviable task of trying to keep the flying Kelly in check.

She did just that by closing down any Kelly breaks and eventually skating away from her on their final leg, before van Bentum brought the team home for a great win and a measure of revenge for last year's loss.

The team repeated the feat indoors on the Monday - winning the senior ladies' 3000m, with Nicole Travers stepping in as team captain in place of Davies.

They again beat Timaru into second place with Travers in outstanding form. Travers also teamed up with van Bentum, Andrew Jones and Gary Clark to win the senior mixed team relay.

Davies was back on the track in the senior ladies' pairs relay to win the gold, teamed with Van Bentum, with Smith and Travers a close second.

Davies also won two golds on the road in the masters and a string of silvers.

Wanganui's junior girls went one better than the seniors, winning the 3km road relay title and setting a new national record in the process.

The previous record was established by Wanganui's Monique Cleeve and Kelly (when she represented Wanganui in 2012) skating as a pair.

There were doubts that Cleeve, teamed with inexperienced newcomers Eugenia Lee and Renee Teers, could defend the title let alone challenge the record. However, unlike the seniors, who had a few dodgy moments, the youngsters performed flawlessly to win from Timaru.

As a bonus, the Wanganui No 2 Team of CJ Dillon and Georgia Reynolds took the bronze from Manawatu.

Lee has stepped up as the defender of Wanganui's long tradition of dominating juvenile and junior girls' skating - winning the overall juvenile girls' championship and three individual gold medals on the road.

On the track, however, she was forced to play second fiddle to the ice skating-bred skills of Mt Wellington's Mikayla Biggs and was involved in a spectacular crash which cost her a place in the 800m final.

The same crash ended Georgia Reynold's championship while she was threatening for the lead.

Renee Teers lived up to her billing as a skater to watch with a brilliant charge from last to second behind Lee in the 2000m road race, while also winning a silver in the 800m track.

Monique Cleeve was unable to stop a rampaging Kelly in the junior girls' but took a well judged silver in the 5km points race.

Eden Smith fulfilled some of his promise with a bronze in the junior boys' 300m TT indoors and thrived on the intense competition.

However, crashes spoiled further medal chances for him.

Both Cleeve and Smith were rewarded with selection in the New Zealand Oceania team to race in Australia in April, along with Rebecca Smith, Travers and van Bentum.

Caitlin Ferguson has been dominating local primary girls' competition all season and was able to extend that domination to the national level.

She won every event except the 200m time trial, which belonged to Timaru's Roshean O'Conner.

Chase Morpeth displayed a similar level of domination in the primary boys' as well as being awarded the Whittle Cup as the championship's youngest competitor.

Other Wanganui skaters to win medals were Ian McKenzie with two golds in Masters B, and Gary Clark with a bronze in the Masters 500m track.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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