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Encouraging times for multisport events
25 May 2016

An upsurge in Maori participation in multisport and a new white-water park could be just what the doctor ordered for an ailing sport which has seen numbers in iconic events dropping off since the boom times of the 1990s. Back in those days, getting a starting spot in the famous Coast-to-Coast race was difficult, with entries selling out in days; entries for the Motu Challenge peaked at 900 in 2002, with a steady decline from that high seeing just over 300 participants by last year.


Other events have disappeared altogether: no more Kaimai Classic or Tongariro Classic.


For many reasons people have switched from multisport or stopped entering altogether – but the decline isn’t unique, as other endurance sports have experienced periodic ebbs and flows in participation. Even as multisport declines, triathlon and in particular ironman-distance events, has seen increased participation, with the emergence of new events like Challenge Wanaka, Taupo 70.3 and Auckland 70.3.


A potential source of increased numbers could be Maori participants, who are showing growing interest in endurance sports. In 2009, 288 participants took on the first ever Iron Māori, an event introduced by Hawkes Bay friends Heather Skipworth and Missy Mackey to help address the depressing health statistics of local Maori. In 2016, people from across Aotearoa and even Australia have flocked to the event: today, 5 Iron Māori fixtures are on the calendar, two in the Hawkes Bay, one each in the Wairarapa, Auckland and Taranaki.


The Maori upswing in triathlon is filtering through to multisport events to such an extent that top races such as the Coast-to-Coast, Motu Challenge and Nugget Multisport Festival, are catering for Maori. One group of athletes, known as the Team Bro’s, is leading the charge.

Team Bro’s Frank Haimona has worked with groups throughout the country to encourage them towards multisport.  Haimona’s passion spills through: “We have a group working towards completing the Coast-to-Coast. Stepping stones along the way are events like the Nugget Multisport Festival in Waihi on 7 May and the Motu Challenge in Opotiki on 8 November.”


Event organisers have adapted rapidly to this new wave of participants. Motu Challenge Event Director Mike van der Boom notes an increase in the number of Maori participants “We’re thrilled to host groups like Team Bro’s; they travel together, stay in local Marae and get their entries in en-masse way ahead of time. For these teams, it’s about taking on a challenge, driving improved health and fitness and enjoying the environment with camaraderie.”


Coast-to-Coast Race Director Richard Ussher is equally keen to encourage greater Maori interest in multisports and was quick to get on the phone to Haimona to see how his event can help address any perceived or actual barriers to entry.


Van der Boom points out that events have to cater for participants as much as they do on competitors. “Achieving wider numbers of entrants is crucial for multisport, so we need to make sure that the experience is rewarding, welcoming and warm for those like Team Bro’s. Participants like this are all about completing their goal together, with competition taking a back seat.”


He adds that there are lessons race organisers can learn from these entrants. “Many of these teams aren’t interested in a ‘group start’, for example – they get going when good and ready. At the Motu Challenge, we’re working to introduce flexibility in start times with a focus on the thrill of completion rather than having withdrawals due to cut-off’s. These concepts should be applied to encourage people to take on the challenge, and not set them up for failure.”


Haimona is working with Maori schools in Auckland and Waikato on improving kayak skill; an exciting development is the new Vector Whitewater Park in Auckland. Team Bro’s is already using the facility to earn grade two kayaking certificates – a pre-requisite for the Coast-to-Coast. “Previously we had to take groups of people to the Whanganui River in Taumaranui or the Mohaka River in the Hawkes Bay. That was easily a 6 hour journey. Now we have a facility in the city,” he enthuses.


The Whitewater Park is an added bonus for people getting into kayaking and in particular multisport kayaking; race directors Samson, Ussher and van der Boom believe it will help drive a surge in multisport entries in the coming years. 

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