The 27th running of the iconic Port of Tauranga Half saw two new champions crowned in blustery conditions at Pilot Bay on Saturday.
Braden Currie and Amelia Watkinson notched their maiden victories in the 27th running of the event that also doubles as New Zealand's long-distance championships.
Currie, the 29-year-old from small-town Methven, won at his third attempt in 3hr 52 min 26 sec after a second and third placing. He is a powerful athlete with a killer-kick on the run leg similar to 43-year-old legend Cameron Brown, the 10-time Port of Tauranga Half winner who finished third in (3:55.06) behind second-placed Mark Bowstead (3:54.00).
But Currie looked anything like winning with a deficit of 2:32 leading into the final 21.1km run home after a disastrous bike leg.
"It was a hard day at the office to tell you the truth. I sort of felt like pulling out halfway through. The bike ride wasn't happening for me and I was just really struggling," Currie said. "I definitely didn't expect Mark [Bowstead] to swim as well as he did so that made it a really hard race. I spent a lot of time chasing and a lot of time battling to catch him up. The course is always tough. It is super flat so you are out there by yourself. It is just a grovel the whole way really.
"I got up to the run and did what I had to do. I had to hang in there and dig deep and it was enough at the end of the day. I didn't really know if my legs were going to come to the party and they did.
"This is a great race and one I always wanted to tick off so it is great to have won it."
Currie has decided to focus on triathlon with a place at this year's Rio Olympics in mind. He has won the gruelling Coast to Coast multi-sport event three times, and placed second overall in XTerra World's racing.
For Watkinson victory was sweet indeed after a fractured femur wiped out most of 2015 for the talented 24-year-old from Hawke's Bay.
"It definitely felt like a really long winter being injured and not being able to race. I made up for it doing some local cycling races but obviously triathlon's my thing and when you can't do it, it's hard,' she said.
"I think it has made me a stronger athlete mentally and I had a chance to work on my weakness which was the swimming, so I am really. Really happy to be back competing this summer."
Watkinson led out of the water to win in 4:16.26 with Candice Hammond second (4:29.17) and Rebecca Fogarty third (4:30.46).
"It is nice to be leading the race as it gives you confidence. It is also nice to be crowned national champ and I am hoping to go onwards and upwards from here."
- For full results visit: www.mountfestival.kiwi.