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World shearing champs ready to roll in Invercargill

Hundreds of shearers and woolhandlers have arrived in Southland for the 40th anniversary World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships.

The four-day event opening tomorrow (Wednesday) is being held in Invercargill's ILT Stadium Southland, a major sports and entertainment centre built more for such events as basketball and netball but this week becoming a woolshed with a six-stand shearing board and seating for about 3000 expected to watch Saturday night's six finals.

The event opens with a day-and-a-half of elimination rounds in the preliminary Southland All Nations Championships, open-entry competitions which have the dual purpose of providing a pre-titles shakedown in New Zealand conditions for the 116 competitors from 32 countries as well as competition for many more shearers and woolhandlers who have come to support them.

The All Nations will be contested in three shearing grades (Open, Senior and Intermediate), two woolhandling grades (Open and Senior) and one blade shearing grade.

The World Championship events start in earnest on Thursday afternoon with the first of three rounds of heats in the machine shearing championships, which were the only events in the inaugural World Championships held at the Royal Bath and West Show in England in 1977.

The blade shearing and woolhandling championships, introduced in 1988, will each have two rounds of heats starting on Friday.

The last rounds of heats, quarterfinals and semi-finals will all be held in daytime sessions on Saturday, including the teams events for which qualifying countries will be decided on a combination of points in the individual championship heats.

It will lead to the finals from 6.30pm on Saturday, with six titles at stake - individual and teams machine and blade shearing finals each having six finalists, and woolhandling which has three finalists.

The blade shearing finals will comprise six sheep for each finalist (three second-shear, three full wool), the woolhandling eight fleeces (four second shear, four full wool), and the machine shearing 20 sheep (eight second-shear, six full wool, six lambs).

Points are based on time and quality, the latter considered paramount in keeping with early principles of competition to improve skills in the work place.

The week also includes a Speed Shearing Championship, for Open-class and Senior-class shearers on Thursday night, where judges also keep a close eye on quality.

Formal shearing competition in New Zealand has a history dating back almost 150 years, the first blades shearing events thought to have been held in Central Hawke's Bay in 1868 and the first machine shearing competition at the Hawke's Bay A and P Show in 1902.

The major boost worldwide was the advent of the Golden Shears International Championships, an annual event held in Masterton each March since 1961. It sparked Golden Shears events in other countries including England and Australia and ultimately lead to the formation of the Golden Shears World Council, under whose auspices the World Championships are held.

Every session of the World Championships will be available via live-stream on the event website at worldshearingchamps.com.