Ironwoman Devon Halligan added some sparkle to a tough day for the New Zealand surf lifesaving team at the International Surf Rescue Challenge in Japan today.
In the face of a fired-up Australian team, Halligan helped New Zealand to clear second in the first test on Onjuku Beach, picking up wins in the board race, board rescue and tube rescue and finishing second in her specialist ironwoman to Australian veteran Kristyl Smith. Australia finished on 157 points, 17 ahead of New Zealand, with hosts Japan trailing in third on 100 points.
It comes less than a week after Halligan, the daughter of former Kiwis rugby league player Daryl, qualified for the lucrative Kellogg's Nutrigrain series in Australia and she admitted that result helped her performance in the Japanese waves.
"Qualifying for the Kellogg's series was a big weight off my mind and it allowed me to go out and really enjoy it today," Halligan explained. "I would've liked to have got closer to Kristyl in the ironwoman but she's a very tough competitor. All the Aussies are pretty fired up so any win we get off them this week is pretty satisfying."
Australia were stung by New Zealand's win at the world championships in Adelaide last year and vowed revenge at this carnival, which is held in alternate years to the biannual world champs.
They set the tone immediately, with world ironman champion Shannon Eckstein dominating the ironman race, heading off New Zealand's Max Beattie, and unleashing Olympic kayakers Lachlan Tame and Naomi Flood in the ski races.
Flood edged out New Zealand Olympic champion Lisa Carrington in the women's ski race, with Halligan third, while Tame and Eckstein finished first and second in the men's event, ahead of top Kiwi male Liam O'Loughlin.
Smith admitted vengeance loomed large in their opening thrust.
"The goal was for Shannon and I being the first two events to kick us off in the right direction," said Smith. "We came here with a point to prove. We're number two at the moment and we want to get back on top."
Carrington and O'Loughlin also finished second in the mixed ski relay, although the world champion kayaker was relishing her first taste of New Zealand surf lifesaving representation, after beginning her sporting career on the beach.
"I'm really enjoying the opportunity and it's always a proud moment to represent your country," Carrington said. "I've raced Naomi a lot in kayaking and she's an amazing competitor but she's even tougher once you put her on a ski."
Other New Zealand highlights from the first test included Chanel Hickman's win in the women's beach sprint, overpowering fierce Australian rival Melissa Howard, although Howard struck back by winning the beach flags with Hickman second. Australian Jake Lynch won both the men's sprint and flags, with Kiwi Paul Cracroft-Wilson finishing second and third respectively.
Rookie Natalie Peat performed well in her first taste of open competition at this level, finishing third behind Smith and Halligan in the ironwoman and third in the surf race.
Open: Australia 157, New Zealand 140, Japan 100, USA 99, Canada
71, Hong Kong 51, Korea 12.
Youth: Australia 65, New Zealand 50, Japan 23.
New Zealand's Devon Halligan on her way to victory in the women's board race at the International Surf Rescue Challenge at Onjuku Beach, Chiba Prefecture, in Japan. Photo by Mark Weatherall
Written by Jamie Troughton / Dscribe Media Services