Richard Ussher is one tough hombre. Fourteen victories - many in record times - in multi-sport races worldwide in 2008 attest to that. Challenges, he admits, are there to be met. And beaten.

Tomorrow, just six weeks after his gutsy fifth at Ironman New Zealand in Taupo, Nelson-based Ussher will be on the start line for the Xterra New Zealand Championship at Rotorua's Blue Lake. A relative novice at the swim-mountainbike-run event, he, along with Ironman runner-up and defending Xterra champion Terenzo Bozzone, will still be among the favourites.

The 1km swim, 26km mountainbike and 11km run is no big deal for Ussher who last year won races in Abu Dhabi, Australia, Trinidad, China and Sweden but it is a challenge, and that above all else remains the motivation for Ussher, who in 1998 represented New Zealand in Moguls (freestyle skiing) at the Nagano Winter Olympics. The prizemoney he regularly pockets keeps food on the table for the full-time sporting star.

What did you do when you left school?
I went skiing and did a bit of coaching.

Have you ever had a "real" job?
Not really. The closest was probably the time I spent with Drake Personnel.

So, how do you describe your occupation?
Full-time athlete/multi-sport competitor.

Can you make a living from it?
I'm not in anything like the same league as a rugby player but we [his Finnish wife Elina is also a top multi-sport competitor] are probably the only ones who can.

What was your biggest pay-day in a hugely successful 2008?
We were in the four-person team who won the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge and picked up US$10,000 each.

Was 2008 the toughest year you have had?
No. 2006 when I was racing for the Nike US team was harder. I had a complete meltdown early in 2007.

How much time do you spend away from New Zealand?
A lot. Last year we went away about 10 times to race or train including the two months we spend in Finland each year.

What inspired you to first enter the Coast to Coast?
I was at a loose end and saw Steve Gurney win. It looked like a bit of fun and worth having a go at. I did the two-day race in 2000 and finished seventh.

What is the hardest discipline on the Coast to Coast?
Probably the kayak, just because you are on your own for so long and especially when the river is down. But, having said that, it is probably my strongest discipline. The three times I have won I had the fastest paddle split.

In "normal" triathlons, what is your weakest discipline?
Swimming. It is something I still have to work at. In last month's Ironman I was almost nine minutes down on the leaders after the swim. That was not helped as I had not been able to swim for five weeks leading up to the race after having a bike crash.

What about [eight-time IMZ winner] Cameron Brown?
He is definitely one of the best in the world. He is a class act. I still have a weakness in my swim which holds me back.

What is the toughest race you have done?
That's a tough question in itself. All events have different elements. The Coast to Coast, as an example, is three hours longer than Ironman. But then some events I do make Coast to Coast and Ironman look like a walk in the park. It's pretty tough when you go four days without sleep as I have done on occasions.

The most enjoyable then?
My favourite is the Anaconda Series in Australia. It is a test in all disciplines.

Your toughest opponent?
Unfair to single one out, but people like Gordon Walker, Steve Gurney and Cameron Brown would be right up there with the best.

The person you admire most in sport?
Keith Murray. He managed to compete at the highest level while still pursuing a highly successful medical career. He still holds the Coast to Coast record.

And outside sport?
Like many, guys like Ed Hillary and Peter Blake.

How much longer can we expect to see you on the international scene?
I haven't put a definite time frame on it. But when it stops being profitable it might be time to quit - maybe three or four years.

What can we expect tomorrow?
I think I will be in with a shot. Terenzo [Bozzone] are both coming off Ironman which will make it hard. Tim Wilding has made getting his title back his focus.

Why do you put your body to the test in this way?
I race because I love it and the challenge.

USSHER'S CV
Born: Wellington
Lives: Nelson and Finland
DOB: June 19, 1976
Secondary school: Onslow College (three years), Hutt Valley High (One)
Represented NZ: 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics - Moguls (freestyle skiing)
Coast to Coast (longest day): Seven starts, three wins, 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th
Ironman NZ: Two starts, 7th (2008), 5th (2009)