Rotorua triathlete Sam Osborne has described his season as a "write-off", with not even a win in Tauranga's Marra Mauao sprint event doing much to change that.
Osborne, 20, won the 750m swim-20km bike-5km run in 57:01, leading off the bike and never headed in the run leg around the Mauao base track, although the under-23 international rep said breathing issues which first cropped up while competing in the US last year continue to plague his progress in the sport and have cast doubt on his race schedule for the rest of 2012.
Osborne held on for the win in the early morning drizzle, kicking clear on the run to edge away from Whakatane's Kieran Coates (57:35) and Mount Maunganui's Owen Miller (58:06), who had his plans for a three-peat of wins dashed by his Rotorua rival.
Osborne was supposed to be competing in the season-opening ITU Mooloolaba World Cup race on Australia's Sunshine Coast but pulled out 10 days ago after a poor showing at the Oceania champs in Tasmania on March 10, brought on by an as-yet undiagnosed issue with his breathing that tends to hit on the run.
Tauranga-based Triathlon NZ doctor Judith May has ruled out asthma but tests haven't been able to determine exactly what it is that makes Osborne struggle to breathe about midway through the 10km run leg of an Olympic distance race.
"It wasn't an issue today because the run was only 5km and I had a bit of a gap out of transition, although I definitely pushed that first half of the run hard because I didn't want to give the other guys a sniff," Osborne said.
"The breathing thing is more annoying than scary and only seems to hit when I'm doing Olympic distance races. It probably hasn't helped that the bike in my last few races in Kinloch, Geelong and Tasmania have been hard. I get out of transition in good shape and get through the first 500m but then it feels like a grand piano coming down on me.
"I really struggle to get a deep breath in and just can't get any air, which is a bit unfortunate because the run's the business end of the race. It'd be better if it hit on the bike, or not at all, because it's game-on time in the run."
Sporting some nice pink grazes down his left leg and a dinged up right shoulder courtesy of a crash in the Whaka forest while mountainbiking on Saturday, Osborne's focus is getting right in time for racing in Germany later in the year. He will continue being tested to get to the root of his medical problems.
Miller, 20, was disappointed to lose his crown, and despite being first out of the water, a few seconds up on Coates and Osborne, was hoping for a tougher swim to take a bit more energy out of his rivals.
He and Coates stuck with Osborne for 19km of the ride but gave the Rotorua racer the jump he wanted heading down The Mall for the final time.
"Sam had been pushing to get away and it was obvious he was after that small lead into transition. He's a strong runner and 20m is all he needed. I always start off a bit slower on the run and build into it but over 5km you can't really afford to spend too long working your way into it."
Tauranga schoolgirl Alice McFall made the most of reigning champion Mikayla Neilson's decision to race in Mooloolaba, exiting Pilot Bay in 11th but grabbing a lead on the bike leg she never relinquished.
McFall, 16, clocked in at 1:05.18, 1 1/2 minutes ahead of Wendy Nicholls with Megan Arthur more than a minute back in third.
In Year 12 at Aquinas College, McFall legged it out of transition with a minute lead on the female chasers, hoping she hadn't paid the price for going too hard on the bike.
"I attacked on the bike but I've got a tendency to kill my legs on the ride and leave nothing for the run. There was a strong head wind too and although I felt comfortable I was a bit stressed because I thought I might have opened the door."
Her stress evaporated when the challenge never came, although McFall knows it will be different when she steps into the senior grade at this week's national secondary schools triathlon champs at Karapiro.
"Mikayla (Neilson) is world champ in her age group and an incredible athlete. It was a score for me today with her not here but it'll be tough to beat her at the nationals."
Marra Mauao sprint triathlon results:
Male: 1 Sam Osborne 57:01, 2 Kieran Coates 57:35, 3 Owen Miller 58:06, 4 Shane Vincent 58:07, 5 Todd Davidson 1:00.28, 6 Oliver Shaw 1:01.16, 7 Mark Anderson 1:01.49, 8 Brad Tucker 1:01.54, 9 Nick Lawson 1:02.09, 10 Martin van der Velden 1:03.36.
Female: 1 Alice McFall 1:05.18, 2 Wendy Nicholls 1:06.45, 3 Megan Arthur 1:08.04, 4 Sarah Backler 1:08.28, 5 Anneke Jenkins 1:08.44, 6 Marina Fowell 1:09.23, 7 Luana Cox 1:10.18, 8 Nicola Leary 1:10.42, 9 Nikki Edwards 1:11.09.