On September 24th, the ITU long distance triathlon world championships welcomed over 700 athletes to Lake Hefner to undertake a grueling 4km swim, 120km bike and 30km run. New Zealand had the fifth largest team from the 27 nations that attended.
Waking up on race morning there were clouds in the dark skyline, an inconsistent breeze and the air temperature felt warm. The water temperature was taken, and the race organisers announced their decision on the use of wetsuits in the race. 80 degrees Fahrenheit, 26.6 Celsius, well above the 24.5 degree threshold for age group athletes allowance of wearing wetsuits. There were a few surprised but many anxious faces, 4km, in fresh water with no wetsuits. Furthermore, as the sun rose the wind from the south west picked up, and the white caps on the water peaked higher.
Within minutes of the race start the difficulty of the swim became apparent. Some competitors bobbing through the water trying to swim, whilst others walked through the waist deep water. No less than 30 minutes into the swim with some athletes not yet managing to reach the 1km mark, many fled the water forfeiting their chance at a world championships. Well known team favourite, captain and oldest team member Garth Barfoot not known for giving up too early, voluntarily withdrew from the swim at the halfway point (2km) "not wanting to put a strain on the already over stretched rescue services".
"The swim was challenging, it was evident on race morning what the athletes were going to be facing, they were not expecting any personal bests, courtesy of the weather conditions", said the NZ team manager.
"The look of sheer relief on athletes faces alongside exhaustion was apparent as those who completed the swim leg exited the water", she added.
NZ Elite Long distance athlete Dylan McNeice, known for his swimming ability was the second athlete in the entire field to leave the water, chasing after USA athlete Davide Giardini. Minutes later the elite women, then age group athletes followed.
Exiting transition on their bikes, all athletes faced the same course: an urban to rural bike leg with tailwinds on the first half of the course, and a headwind on the gradual rolling hills as they returned. The winds challenged many, however, the little horizontal cross winds to heighten the risk of crash.
The final challenge awaited them after racking their bikes, with the 30km run alongside Lake Hefner and temperatures sitting at 33 degrees. With a storm forecast for the late afternoon, moisture could be felt in the humid air. There were no athletes on the run course who did not make use of the aid stations supply of wet sponges, water, ice or sunscreen. With it being over 40 minutes between laps that some athletes were seen, supporters and the likes all showed concern for athletes ability to race in such warm conditions. Medical vehicles would pass, all witnesses wondering who the patient was. However, the kiwi contingent were a wise and resilient group avoiding any majors health concerns.
Many athletes later commented that it was one of the toughest races that they had competed in. The ability to finish the race was an achievement on its own. Kiwi support poured in from the course sidelines throughout the hours of racing and as each athlete crossed the line. The New Zealand contingent managed many notable finishes including 6 podiums.
• Long time world champion competitor Shirley Rolston of Canterbury Tri Club receiving a gold in the 65-69 female age category.
• Jess Barnes (Eastern Bay of Plenty Triathlon & multisport club) securing a gold medal at her first long distance world championships in the 20-24 age group only a week after racing in Cozumel!
• Dan Begley (Auckland City Tri Club) World Championship first time racer securing 3rd place in the men's 25-29 age group!
• The teams youngest athlete Corey Le Couteur representing Tri Sport Taupo, receiving a silver medal for the Men's 18-19 category.
• A return to the World Championships for Pammy Meyer from The Network club who impressed many with her second fastest swim time and podium finish. A proud effort after a couple of years recovery following severe knee injury in Weihai in 2014.
• Mention to Amy Stretten for first place in her age group.