A world beater
FORMER Grafton ironman Hugh Dougherty has handled the step up to international competition with aplomb, helping Australia secure a series clean sweep at the International Surf Rescue Challenge in Durban, South Africa.
Dougherty starred in the second of the three-test series, which wrapped up on Sunday, snaring gold medals in the board, the mixed board relay with fellow Australian team debutant Courtney Hancock, and the board rescue with Nathan Smith.
In the third test the former Yamba Surf Life Saving Club member again won the board to complete a superb debut.
Australian team coach Brett Dowker praised his team, especially the newcomers.
“It is great to see the new talent in our team really step up. The likes of Hugh Dougherty, Courtney Hancock and Elizabeth Pluimers have really stamped their authority on the team,” Dowker said.
“As a team it is important for us to have talent continuing to come through the ranks and this team shows the power of experience and new talent.”
Australia dominated the series, winning 24 gold medals in 24 events.
While the Aussies headed into the test series heavy favourites, even the competitors were surprised to win every event, with challenging surf and top racing from South Africa keeping them on their toes.
Australian team captain and world ironman champion Shannon Eckstein, led the team well, winning an impressive six events in the final test alone.
Eckstein, first-time captain of the Australians, said the team was the strongest they have ever had.
“All the water competitors are multi-disciplined, so we could afford to rest athletes when we needed to conserve energy,” Eckstein said.
“Coming straight out of the Australian championships, which are four big days of racing, it was good for us to have such depth in our team and we could race smartly.”
Australia amassed a perfect 92 points in the series, 28 points clear of hosts South Africa.
The United States were third on 39, and Great Britain fourth on 34.