May 25, 2014

The CEO of Ironman international has given Ironman South Africa in Port Elizabeth a resounding thumbs up. Andrew Messick attended the event for the first time in its 10th anniversary edition on the 6th of April and said everything he had heard about the race had proved to be true.

Messick said Ironman South Africa had seen excellent growth, with the 519 international competitors this year being almost double the number of overseas visitors from 2013. He told Sport Elizabeth that the Ironman community was clearly deepening in South Africa, with a record 2092 athletes on the starting line this year.

Messick said he looked forward to seeing more growth going forward in a clear indication that the event’s immediate future in Nelson Mandela Bay is secure.  “Increasing competitiveness was seen in the race and there was extraordinary growth in the age groups. There were twice as many international athletes competing this year which is exceptional.”  He went on to say that he is looking forward to doing more events in South Africa. Messick is generally regarded as the most powerful man in the sport of Ironman globally and for him to travel to South Africa and give the Port Elizabeth race such a glowing reference is a huge boost for race director Paul Wolffe and his team.

Out on the route, Ironman SA 2014 threw up some exciting contests as Nils Frommhold from Germany took on the pre-race favourites and triumphed while the ladies’ race mirrored that of 2013 with Jodie Swallow of Great Britain dominating proceedings only to be trounced at the death with Simone Braendli of Switzerland taking the spoils. The day started out with ideal weather conditions. The sea was flat with only a light north-westerly wind as the athletes began their swim.  Frommhold left the water first after the 3.8 kilometre swim in 00:48:16 and was closely followed by Faris Al-Sultan of Germany and the Dutch pair of Edo van der Meer and Bas Diederen.

Frommhold’s tactic to push for a lead looked a good one as he entered transition after the 180 kilometre bike ride over five minutes ahead of South Africa’s Kyle Buckingham. Diederen and Al-Sultan came into transition a minute after Buckingham, with 4 seconds separating them. It remained to be seen whether Frommhold would be able to hold on or would Buckingham, Al-Sultan or Diederen have the legs to run him down.

Though Frommhold was securely in first position, Buckingham and Faris Al-Sultan pushed hard to get to the top and there was a constant battle for second position between the pair. While Frommhold impressed many by managing to hold on to his lead, a real tussle developed between Al-Sultan and Buckingham heading into the last 10km. Buckingham slowed and eventually started walking. This was when Al-Sultan passed and moved into second. No one expected Buckingham to get a second wind but with less than 5km to the finish, the Port Elizabeth-born triathlete managed to regain second spot.

Frommhold maintained his lead and crossed the finish line in 08:26:06 to become the 2014 IRONMAN South Africa champion. To the delight of the local crowd, Buckingham managed to hold onto second place in his debut IRONMAN as a professional in his home town finishing in a time of 08:32:38. Buckingham proved that he is an athlete to be taken seriously on the PRO circuit. Al-Sultan came in shortly after with a time of 08:33:18 – his first podium in South Africa in three attempts.

Buckingham said he’d certainly been lifted by his home crowd and that he’d put in a huge effort in the swim and on the first 30 kilometres of the bike, just to stay in touch with the lead-pack. “I just gambled and managed to catch the leaders at Kragga Kamma and then it was a case of hanging on because I’d expended a lot of energy to get near the front. Luckily it worked out for me and I was able to stay with them after that. I really felt good on the second 90-km lap of the bike which meant I had the legs going into the marathon. That red carpet moment at the finish at Hobie Beach was amazing for both me and my home crowd. Its an experience which will live with me forever. It was a dream come true and hopefully it will happen again.”

One of the pre-race favourites James Cunnama finished well off the pace in what is also his home race. “Under normal circumstances I probably would have pulled out and saved myself for another day,” Cunnama told Sport Elizabeth. “However, there was a purpose to finishing in that I’ve now consolidated my place at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in October. Having finished 4th at Kona last year, all I needed to do this year to book my spot was to complete a full Ironman event. That box is now ticked, so from that perspective, Ironman SA was not a total disaster. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed running alongside the age-groupers and soaking up the crowd and enjoying a more relaxed side of the race. I think it also put Ironman into perspective for me, and brought home the fact that there is so much more to the race than just the pro athletes battling it out in front for the win.”
Amongst the ladies, it was Jodie Swallow who dominated the swim, exiting first with a blistering pace that placed her second overall. Lucie Reed of the Czech Republic and Simone Braendli were second and third out of the water to begin the chase. Rounding out the top five were Denmark’s Michelle Vesterby and Katja Konschak of Germany.

Entering T2 after the 180-kilometres on the bike with a lead of over 8 minutes, Swallow was looking to extend the lead on the run course but Lucy Gossage and Simone Braendli were the danger contenders as they started running down the leading lady. Into the second loop of the run, Swallow was desperately holding on to the lead by two minutes as the flying Swiss, Simone Braendli overtook Gossage for second place. Not long after, at the 37km mark, Braendli finally claimed the lead over a tiring Swallow.  Braendli kept the lead all the way to the finish with a smooth and comfortable run to cross in 09:31:53, Gossage had a great second place finish with a time of 09:36:06. An exhausted Swallow fell into third with a time of 09:33:58.

The top 5 male and female athletes expressed their keen interest in returning to take part in the 2015 IRONMAN South Africa event where the legendary PE crowds may get to see these amazing athletes in action once again. 
Top 5 Men:  1. Nils Frommhold (GER), 2. Kyle Buckingham (SA), 3. Faris Al-Sultan (GER), 4. Bas Diederen (NED), 5. Matt Trautman (SA)
Top 5 Women: 1. Simone Brandli (SUI), 2. Lucy Gossage (UK), 3. Jodie Swallow (UK), 4. Jessie Donavan (USA), 5. Astrid Ganzow (GER)

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