Gisborne will welcome the biggest triathlon event to hit the East Coast in many years with the hosting of the Sovereign Oceania Triathlon Championships on March 19-20, with racing for everyone from elites to all comers including the added lure of possible Rio Olympic Games wildcard spots up for grabs.
Elite racing on the Saturday afternoon will see Australia and New Zealand go head to head in the race for line honours, with the Aussies sending a strong team to contest all elite categories of Juniors, U23 and elite.
Triathlon New Zealand High Performance Coach Tim Brazier says the unique nature of the race itself has many excited, let alone the competition from the green and gold of Aussie.
"The Oceania Champs in Gisborne is going to provide a great racing environment to test the athletes swim skills, if the surf is up it certainly has the potential to split up the field and change the race dynamic. I know our athletes are looking forward to getting amongst the waves.
"Gisborne will provide a great opportunity for our top emerging athletes to pit themselves against Australia's best on their home soil, with Aaron Royle, Jack Birtwhistle and Olympic medallist Emma Moffat racing. This will be a big test for the likes of Sam Ward (Auckland), Sam Osborne (Rotorua), Deb Lynch (Porirua) and Simone Ackermann (Auckland).
"With our top athletes focused in on cementing their places on the Olympic team through WTS races we will certainly be the underdogs but it is a chance for this group to achieve their own performance related goals and represent New Zealand proudly. We will be looking at our 'young guns' to put their best performances forward to challenge these World Class athletes."
Both Australia and New Zealand will be racing to try and earn spots for their national teams at the Rio Olympic Games. While complicated, the system essentially allows for athletes not already (or subsequently) qualified for Rio to win the race and confirm a spot for their country (not the individual) in Rio, ensuring that racing will be fierce and team tactics to the fore.
The shame for local fans is that Gisborne athlete Tayler Reid will not be amongst them, the 19-year-old Stephen Sheldrake coached athlete is on the side lines at the moment nursing a broken arm after an altercation with a car while out training.
"It is a disappointment for Tayler and for the local tri community that he cannot race," said Brazier. "He is well known locally and for some time has been in the news as he progresses through the school and junior ranks. For many the Haka he received in Gisborne at the 2014 National Schools Champs from his schoolmates will live long in the memory. But Tayler is a gifted young athlete with a big future, his time will come and I am sure he will be there over the weekend supporting the other athletes."
Event Director and local triathlon and business identity (and also President of Oceania Triathlon Union) Terry Sheldrake says it is a wonderful showcase for the sport, but also for the region.
"When we made the decision to host this race in Gisborne we did so knowing that the local community will get behind the events, both as participants but also as spectators watching the elite racing. We have structured the weekend so that people can arrive on the Friday or Saturday morning, sit back and enjoy watching the elite racing on the Saturday afternoon before taking part in their own events on Sunday.
"And there is something for everyone, with age group racing over the sprint distance on Sunday acting as a qualifier for the ITU World Age Group Championships but importantly we have a separate fun event over a much shorter distance, something for anyone who is relatively fit and would like to give the sport a go - either as an individual or by getting a few mates together in a team."
One of the highlights of the weekend will be the Junior Mixed Relay on the Sunday afternoon. With both Australia and New Zealand entering multiple teams the racing will be fast and furious and a lot of fun for the crowd to watch, while at the same time giving the Junior athletes a taste of mixed relay racing, an aspect of the sport that is fast growing and already on the programme at the Commonwealth Games and World Championships.
All participants in all events receive an event shirt and an invite to the pasta party and opening welcome on the Friday night at Churchill Park. Further to that all entrants are in the draw to win a $1,000 travel voucher from Elliott Travel - that includes teams and individuals in the fun short distance event on the Sunday.
All events over the weekend are based out of Churchill Park, with a surf swim for the elites and age groupers but a swim in much shallower and calmer water for the fun event. The Sovereign sponsored event will enjoy the support of Oceania Triathlon and Tri NZ, with a full complement of marshals and life guards ensuring a safe and well organised event for all.