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World Champ under no illusion

Winning a world woolhandling title in familiar conditions is one thing. Travelling halfway around the world and winning one is another thing entirely.

That's the challenge that faces the 2014 World Woolhandling Champion, Hilary Bond of England as she prepares for her title defence at the 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill, New Zealand, in February.

New Zealand has traditionally dominated world Woolhandling with the late Joanne Kumeroa and Sheree Alabaster owning the 2000s, sharing three world titles between them. But in more recent history, titles have gone the way of the home nations or near neighbours. Wales' Bronwyn Tango won in front of her home crowd in 2010 and Joel Henare did the same thing in Masterton in 2012.

Hilary Bond came from nowhere to surprise the field, and herself, to claim the title in Gorey, Ireland in 2014.

"I couldn't believe it. Gobsmacked!" she said, when asked to remember her historic victory two and half years ago. "It was always something I wanted to achieve but I didn't know if I could. I had set a goal of making the final and once I got in there I thought I've got nothing to lose," she said.

In the end, it wasn't all that close. Bond's victory margin was 30 points. "That shocked me even more really. The board points were put up immediately and Ronnie (Goss of New Zealand) had much better board points than I did. When I looked at them, I shook my head and thought, that's too much of a gap to breach," she remembers.

How wrong she was. Bond's performance that day wrote herself into the record books as England's first shearing or woolhandling world champion.

"I couldn't have had a better team around me. My team manager, Steven Lloyd, was absolutely brilliant and I had competed in previous World Champs with his wife, Ann who always had belief in me and was a huge help," she said.

But as the conversation turned to her 35,000 kilometre round trip to New Zealand's deep south for the 2017 World Championships, she took on a very realistic view of her chances.

"People say I shouldn't go with a defeatist attitude but in all reality, I know it's going to be very hard to compete. My strengths are the rolling of the wool and that isn't as important in New Zealand, so I don't have a huge expectation of myself," she said.

That's not to say she's not feeling any pressure. "I am worried about people's expectations of me. You are going to be introduced as the world champion and I don't want people thinking, why was she world champion, when it's just so different to what we do in the UK."

"The difference between what you do (in New Zealand) and we do here in the UK is one of the big challenges. The last time I was in New Zealand was a real learning curve. I've never worked a full season in New Zealand, in fact just a few odd days in sheds is all I've done, so I'm at a disadvantage but that's the way the cookie crumbles," she said.

It's a refreshingly honest appraisal, but it's also a challenge she is very much looking forward to.

Bond's World Championship build-up is made that much more difficult by her work commitments on the family farm in Dartmoor, Devon.

"I would love to do lots of things, but the tie to our farm is not going to let me do what I ought to do or probably should. But hopefully I'll get a little practice in and I won't make a complete idiot of myself," she said jokingly.

The family farm is a large commitment, but it's one she is rightfully proud of. After the passing of her father it has become the biggest part of her life, running 300 acres with her sister Rosemarie. "The farm has been in the family for four generations so there's quite a bit of history here," Bond said.

She also has got family to thank for her start in woolhandling.

"My cousins are shearers and they needed someone to go around with them and pick up a bit of wool. We saw a competition at the local show advertised, which was the first time a woolhandling competition had been held in England. I got myself on a British Wool Marketing Board course, learnt how to do it and it all went from there," she said.

"In 2003 the World Champs were in Edinburgh, the first time I competed in them. Joanne (Kumeroa) won the world title and the whole experience of being part of something bigger that was spread across the World hooked me and I just wanted to get better."

She has certainly done that. Now, in her 14 th year representing her country, she is just months away from a seventh World Championship appearance.

Hilary Bond may not have high expectations for her chances in February, but the same could be said in 2014. History was made then. In a little over two months, we'll know if it repeats in 2017.

The 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships will be held in the South Island of New Zealand for the first time in its 40-year history in Invercargill from 8 to 11 February. Tickets and event information can be found at www.worldshearingchamps.com.


 

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