Echuca's Leo Welch will rekindle old memories of his Southern 80 triumph with Island Cooler when he competes in tomorrow's veterans event with Jamie Oliver.By Geordie Cowan
It has been 23 years since Leo Welch won his second Southern 80 as an observer with Island Cooler and he will experience a reunion of sorts in veteran over 40s tomorrow.
While Welch and skier Jamie Oliver are the only two remaining members of the original team, joining them in the Sealord Mistress team will be skier Nathan Glynn, who came through the sport at the same time as Oliver.
Chris Gelle will be the observer in Sealord Mistress.
‘‘We won it in 1989 and 1990. Now it’s 2013, so it’s a fairly big step around,’’ Welch said.
‘‘We picked Jamie up when he was 16 or 17 and he won his first Southern 80 when he was 18.
‘‘Nathan was more opposition than anything, but I’m still keen to carry them in vets.’’
His time with Island Cooler was an enjoyable one for Welch, as the team smashed the Southern 80 record in consecutive years, reducing the time by almost two minutes with the legendary Dennis Rowbottom in the driver’s seat.
‘‘He was a fearless driver. Well in control, but absolutely fearless,’’ Welch said of Rowbottom.
‘‘Sometimes it wasn’t the quickest boat, but he drove it the hardest of anyone else out there and the boys on the back did a very good job.
‘‘We took minutes off the record. They always said 36 wouldn’t be broken and now they’re down to 30 minutes and that might topple this year, who knows.
‘‘But Island Cooler, in its day, was a sensational boat.
‘‘The first to win the King of the Murray, Dennis was unstoppable as a driver.’’
Having the chance to compete with Oliver again was a chance to bring back some of those memories, Welch said.
‘‘Jamie lives in Sydney now but you’re always mates,’’ he said.
‘‘Just like when you win a grand final together, you’ve always got that bond.
‘‘That’ll never be broken. It doesn’t matter who you’re skiing with.
‘‘Jamie will be my opponent on Sunday and we will be going head-to-head to try and beat each other, but on Saturday we’ll be doing our very best to win that class.’’
Winning it will be no easy task though with many high quality competitors in the field.
Top Gun won the veterans last year, while The Syndicate poses a real threat with Kevin Vahtrik and Danny Cropper behind the Gary Rudd-driven boat.
‘‘The Syndicate boys, they’ve got the runs on the board, although Top Gun won last year,’’ Welch said.
‘‘But Syndicate, they’ve run down in sub-seven minutes.
‘‘Cropper and Vahti are two very good skiers and the Syndicate boat is just purpose built for this course.
‘‘I think the first three or four crews, it’ll be a toss of the coin.
‘‘I’d love nothing better than to win vets with those two blokes.
‘‘They are super competitive. They won a Sydney Bridge to Bridge together (and a Southern 80 behind God’s Gift in 1995).
‘‘I’m quite excited for it.’’
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