20-YEAR-OLD COURTNEY DUNCAN SEEKS MOTOCROSS STARDOM DESPITE CRASH INJURY
New Zealand's Courtney Duncan is learning to take the good with the bad.
The 20-year-old from Otago is a motocross hero in New Zealand and fast becoming one overseas, but her progress internationally has been temporarily put on ice after a crash at the German Grand Prix just over two weeks ago, the third round of seven in the Women's Motocross World Championships.
Back in New Zealand to recuperate, her disappointment was softened just a fraction by her attending the Motorcycling New Zealand (MNZ) awards ceremony in Wellington a week ago and being named New Zealand's best up-and-coming off-road rider for 2016, an honour some might say was long overdue.
A better rider than most Kiwi males her age, Duncan has long been respected by her rivals in the senior men's and women's ranks. She was just 13 when she finished a remarkable sixth overall in the 85cc class at the Junior Motocross World Championships in 2009, racing against riders from around the world. Perhaps this was an early sign of greater things to come.
In January this year, riding a Yamaha YZ250F, she beat the best Kiwi men to become the first female to win the Grand Prix title in the senior MX2 (250cc) class at the annual New Zealand Motocross GP at Woodville, before embarking on her debut Women's Motocross World Championships campaign in Europe.
She won three of the first four races in the world series, before her misfortune at the German GP, colliding with a photographer who was standing on the track.
“I came over that jump just like in the eight laps previously, with no problems at all, but this time there was a photographer standing right there.
“There was nothing I could do and I clipped my handlebars on her,” said Duncan.
Duncan has now slipped from first to third overall in the championship standings with only four rounds (eight races) remaining.
“I'll miss the next two rounds, in France and Italy, but hopefully I'll be back for Switzerland (on August 7) and Assen (in The Netherlands, on August 28).
“I'm disappointed, to say the least.
“It has been very hard to accept. So much time and energy was spent on preparation for my world championships campaign.
“But I can't dwell on the negatives. Instead I'll take some positives out of it. By working with (Motueka's former GP motocross star) Josh Coppins, I have learned so much.
“There are plenty of positives actually. I am a lot more confident in myself and I know what to expect now in Europe, so I'll be even better-prepared next season. Josh has been brilliant for me. He had been in that same position when an injury meant he lost his chance for a world title in 2007 and so he has experienced and dealt with the same lows as I'm now facing.
“Getting injured is a risk we all take in this sport.... every time we put on our helmet. If this was something I could not accept, then I would have chosen a different sport.”
Duncan has time on her side and it seems a sure bet she will again be a world title contender in 2017 and beyond.
The MNZ awards ceremony on Saturday night was just a part of the organisation's annual conference, at Te Papa Museum over the weekend, and attendees were treated during Sunday morning's breakfast to a talk by another of New Zealand's elite female motocross racers, Katherine Oberlin-Brown (nee Prumm).
Auckland's Oberlin-Brown put New Zealand on the map in 2005, when the then 17-year-old finished a remarkable runner-up that year to Germany's Stephanie Laier in the Women's Motocross World Cup, the forerunner to what was later to become recognised (in 2008) as the women's world championships.
She returned to Europe in 2006 and this time won the world title outright, beating Laier, and defended her title in 2007, this time beating French rider Livia Lancelot to the crown.
The other 2016 NZ Motorcycle Awards recipients on Saturday night were Hamilton's Jacob Stroud (best up-and-coming road rider); Hamilton's Josiah Natzke (male rider of the year); Orewa's Avalon Biddle (female rider of the year) and Christchurch's Wendy Ashmore (service to motorcycling).