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As the temperatures rose and the wind started to blow on yesterday's Coast to Coast, Andrew Nicholson might have wished he was back surrounded by ice.

The former world champion speed skater and three-time Winter Olympian was part of a small New Zealand team that upset some of the superpowers in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

That they were able to claim a world title in 1993 and went agonisingly close to claiming an Olympic medal at Albertville in 1992 and Lillehammer two years later was nothing short of remarkable for a nation without any skating tradition.

It was not exactly Cool Runnings in the way of the Jamaican bobsleigh team, but it was still an achievement.

These days, that life is but a distant memory. The 37-year-old has swapped one demanding sport for another but the contrasts couldn't be much greater.

Most speed skating races were over in a couple of minutes but yesterday Nicholson took hours to travel from one side of the South Island to the other in the Speight's Coast to Coast. He finished a credible 14th in 12h 57m, almost two hours behind winner Richard Ussher, and slumped to the sand in agony moments after crossing the finish line.

"It's a different type of hurt [from speed skating]," he said with pain etched on his face. "Skating is much, much more intense but at least it only lasts a few minutes. This just goes on and on and on."

While that journey was full of twists and turns, obstacles and challenges, his journey to multisport was equally noteworthy.

In his past life, Nicholson did a lot of cycling with his brother and fellow skater Chris Nicholson, who went on to represent New Zealand in cycling at the Summer Olympics, as part of their training.

He returned to cycling when he let the skating blades start to gather rust in 1998. He rode in a Tour of Southland and also lined up at the 2001 road nationals but soon realised he wasn't good enough to crack it at the top level. "I might have made a New Zealand team but it would have been in one of the hardest sports in the world to make it," he says. "I was always looking for something that I could do more at a local level, and I was due for a change."

Yesterday was Nicholson's third attempt at the Coast to Coast. In the first in 2003, done after limited training, he finished a creditable 28th in the gruelling one-day event. What was perhaps more notable was the fact he set the fastest time for the final cycle leg into Christchurch.

"I recorded the fastest last bike time but unfortunately [winner] Steve Gurney beat me by one hour on the kayak and 45 minutes on the run," he jokes. "I fell out of the boat three times and got lost on the run but I thought I did okay".

It was why he targeted a top-10 position when he tackled it again last year after a more intense build-up and a few years on the local multisport circuit.

Again, however, things didn't run smoothly. "In the first stages of the mountain run, I blew my hamstring to bits," he says. "It was a disaster. I limped over the mountains and hobbled my way through to the finish in about 60th."

Nicholson thought it would be his last but, like a lot of competitors who swear off the event, couldn't resist another crack at it. Something eats away at mountain types and lures them to start lines.

It has helped that he has recently moved to Greymouth, where he is a first-year teacher of Year 6 and 7 students at Karoro Primary School. Summer holidays have been about combining training and exploring his new surrounds at the same time.

He had hoped to finish in the top 10 yesterday and maybe even push the leaders but he knows that competition doesn't always pan out the way you want it to. "It was all right," he said. "I'm not disappointed. I made top 15, so that will do."