Last year's glory is now history. The big dogs of 2018 are lined up ready to go in their quest for the Asian Pacific Championship ring. This year the competition will be even fiercer.
Who are the big dogs?
Let's start with last year's Open champ, Josh Evans (AU). He's fit, he's fast, he's in his prime, and he has to start favourite for 2019 in the Asia Pacific.
His main challenge will come from Harry Clarke (AU), perhaps the most Aussie of the Aussie riders. In 2018 Crazy Harry nipped at Josh's heels, with only 19 points separating them in the points race. Harry's loose vibe belies his competitive spirit - this is a guy whose pre-race nerves cause him to vomit behind every start line. They also cause him to crash out of every final he gets into. His Aussie-ness is also a bit of a mystery; Harry grew up in Hong Kong and hardly set foot on Australian soil until he had finished high school.
The third of the Aussie big dogs is Mitch Thompson. In 2018 he struggled with a shoulder that dislocated upon contact with a slight breeze, yet still managed a creditable third place in the Asia-Pacific rankings. The surgeons gave him a brand-new shoulder in late 2018 - this will be its first big test. Mitch has an extra advantage though - his local hill is Newton's, the biggest of the four Asia-Pacific races in 2019.
Can anybody challenge all these Aussies? If you ask Jaime de Lange (PH) the answer will be "YES". Jaime's determination to beat the Aussies led him to move to Australia in 2018 so he could study them up close and copy their diet and training regime. The Philippines has a bunch of seriously fast riders, but many struggle to travel internationally due to visa issues. This year Jaime and Tomas Romualdez will be flying the Philippines flag.
Then there's the old dog. Jacko Shapiera (AU) is now a married 30-year-old with a gammy leg and a decade-long history of coulda-shoulda-woulda results without ever recording a single win. But he's still as fast as anybody, and he's committed to doing the entire Asia-Pacific tour. This could be his last shot.
Which dogs are missing? The New Zealanders!
In 2018 the top-ranked NZ-er was Elissa Mah. In Open Skateboard. (She won the Women's title with ease). The NZ men were nowhere. Didn't show up. Probably scared.
Will Elissa face any competition in the Womens? Perhaps Jasmine Ngaparu (AU) will step up in 2019?
Which brings us to the Luge dogs. Abdil Mahdzan (MY) dominated in 2018, and it's hard to see this changing this year. The best chance for an upset is Aussie Graham "Grits" Brittain, who can match it with anybody. Does he want it enough?
The 21st century is often called the "Asian Century", yet this contains a multitude of interior battles. The dominance of Australian riders, and even their inclusion in "Asia-Pacific", strikes an odd note. Is it a relic of 20th century colonialism? Will it soon end as the riders of the Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, and China step up? Or will it fade away into a better-integrated future?
Whichever it is, the 2019 Asia-Pacific Championships start in less than a week. Get ready for history to be made.
Photos: T. Wright, L. Marsh, O. Licop, R. O'Toole, J. Alino, and F. Mahdzan