Sam Osborne and Samantha Kingsford captured the 18th XTERRA Rotorua Festival off-road triathlon elite titles on Saturday, April 10, 2021, with winning times of 1:59:01 and 2:21:53, respectively, on a wet day at Lake Tikitapu in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand’s North Island.
It’s the 5th XTERRA World Tour win for Kingsford, her first in Rotorua, and the 14th XTERRA World Tour title for Osborne plus his unprecedented fourth in a row in his hometown of Rotorua, passing Olympic gold medalist Hamish Carter’s previous record of three-straight from 2004-2006.
As a teenager, Osborne remembers watching Carter win this race and those anxious moments afterwards as he chased down an autograph.
“2004 I believe, as a young fella, I remember watching Hamish win here in Rotorua just after his Olympic Gold and waiting what felt like an age to get a pic & autograph on my shirt,” he said. “Now to have gone one up on his streak and deal with him regularly as our Tri NZ HP director, funny how these things come round isn’t it!”
In the men’s race Kyle Smith – just two weeks removed from a third-place finish at Ironman New Zealand – posted the fastest 1K swim time in 14:15, with Ivan Abele and David Martin on his heels and Osborne and Oliver Larcombe another 10-seconds back.
“Swim was mental, really fast first 200 and then things really started to kick on,” said Osborne. “Front pack fragmented a little at the end of the swim and I was caught out in the split, but it was still very close 13-second blanket over the first 5. Then, almost just like an ITU race, the start of the bike just went boom!”
Once on the mountain bikes the race quickly became a two-man game with Smith and Osborne leading the way. Interestingly, Smith had the faster swim by 13-seconds and Osborne had the better bike by the same margin.
“Kyle held his 13sec for quite a while, I couldn’t quite close but never grew either,” said Osborne. “Over the top of the big climb and into the big descent of the day I bridged across and we joined together. I tried to put a little pressure on him, but he was riding well in the mud and I was hesitant to push it too hard with how slippery it was. The trails were slick, and the tree roots were treacherous, so I thought the safer game was the way to go today.”
The two came into transition together, and then pushed the pace even more.
“I had every intention to take it out fast, and it seems Kyle had the exact same idea, and we went for a cracking duel trying to one-up each other through the first kilometer,” said Osborne. “Every time we went over the top of each other it just got that bit quicker, but it wasn’t too far past 1K when we dropped into the trees and I heard the footsteps slowly disappearing and knew that was the time to make it hurt.”
Osborne posted the fastest 11K run with a 41:42 split and finished more than two minutes ahead of Smith for the win.
“Four in a row at home, that’s special,” he said. “There really is something about performing in front of all your friends & family. Usually, they only hear about your racing overseas but never get to watch it for real. There was a lot of excitement around this one and I feel like it delivered that cracking race that it promised to be.”
Jack Moody (pictured left with Osborne in the middle on Smith on the right) had the second-best run split of the day to finish third with Kieran McPherson just 20-seconds back in fourth, and Larcombe rounding out the top 5.
“Awesome day for me,” said Moody. “Pro debut and rounding out the podium only two weeks after Ironman NZ is awesome. Course was an absolute riot. After a less than desirable swim I got into my work on the bike and had a laugh slipping and sliding down some of the descents in the redwoods, kept it rubber side down on the bike and then after a few dicey moments on a slippery run course I ran my way into 3rd.”
In the women’s elite race Hannah Knighton took the early lead after the swim, followed by Maeve Kennedy, Hannah Howell, and Brea Roderick with Kingsford almost one-minute off the front.
“It was a very strong field of pro women this year with some of the NZ ITU High performance girls coming to have a crack at XTERRA and as expected they took the swim out at lightning speed,” said Kingsford. “I didn’t have the best swim today, but I also didn’t let them get too far ahead of me for the start of the bike, and I was able to quickly pick through all the girls and took the lead about 5K into the ride.”
From there Kingsford kept rolling and posted the fastest bike split of the day (1:13:40) followed by the fastest run (51:31) to cross the wet sand at the finish line more than two-minutes ahead of Kennedy in second place.
“I feel like I put together the best run off the bike I ever have, which is something I have been working hard on all summer,” said Kingsford. “I’m so stoked to finally take the win here at Rotorua in front of my family and friends, and to make it a Sam^2 affair made it all that much sweeter. It definitely takes the cake for the best win to date, because it’s been a race I’ve wanted to win since I started racing XTERRA!”
Lizzie Orchard came in third, Knighton fourth, and Howell rounded out the top five.
XTERRA ROTORUA ALL-TIME ELITE WINNERS
Year – Men/Women
2003 – Sam Mallard/Evelyn Willamson
2004 – Hamish Carter/Sonia Foote
2005 – Hamish Carter/Sonia Foote
2006 – Hamish Carter/Gina Ferguson
2007 – Tim Wilding/Gina Ferguson
2008 – Terenzo Bozzone/Sonia Foote
2009 – Richard Ussher/Nicola Leary
2010 – Scott Thorne/Nicola Leary
2011 – Richard Ussher/Karen Hanlen
2012 – Ben Allen/Jacqui Slack
2013 – Ben Allen/Renata Bucher
2014 – Conrad Stoltz/Barbara Riveros
2015 – Braden Currie/Suzie Snyder
2016 – Braden Currie/Lizzie Orchard
2017 – Sam Osborne/Jacqui Allen
2018 – Sam Osborne/Jacqui Allen
2019 – Sam Osborne/Jacqui Allen
2021 – Sam Osborne/Samantha Kingsford