Cambridge-based triathlete Kyle Smith has taken the long-distance triathlon world by storm in the past 18 months.
He is now looking to defend his Tauranga Half crown, on Saturday, against one of the best fields ever assembled for the event.
It all started for Smith in December 2019 with a classy victory in his debut event – the Taupō 70.3.
This performance put the triathlon world on notice, before his second crack at this distance put them on alert.
He dominated the men's field in the 2020 Tauranga Half from start to finish, to record victory in a time of 3h 42m 7s, smashing three minutes and 31 seconds off the course record, set by Braden Currie in 2017.
After the event, Smith acknowledged the man whose course record he had just broken saying: "Braden Currie is such a classy athlete, who has paved the way for athletes such as myself to follow. I hope he returns to the race next year."
Smith gets his wish on Saturday with legendary multisport athlete Currie back at the Tauranga Half for the first time in four years. Currie is joined by 2019 winner Mike Phillips, last year's runner-up Jack Moody and 10-time race winner Cameron Brown.
Smith is aware of the formidable challenge to his title.
"The field for the 2021 Tauranga Half is the best there has been for a while, with a very classy field of athletes racing. I am excited to toe the line alongside them.
"It will be huge for me to defend my title after having such a good performance last year. It would be the cherry on top to break the course record I set last year too."
A strong time is on the cards with the bike section of the triathlon now taking place on the new Toll Road, as opposed to a three-lap stretch up and down Ocean Beach Rd, with judder bars to contend with.
"The new bike course is very exciting, a super flat and fast new road surface that should see some lightning-fast bike splits on Saturday," Smith said.
He looks to be in good shape heading into this year's event after winning the Rotorua Suffer in December, taking 22 minutes of the race record in the process.
"My training has been really consistent compared to last season. Last year I picked up an injury around Christmas and had to have some time off running, so hopefully this year I will see a better run performance."
He can't wait for Saturday's event, which starts at 6.35am at Pilot Bay.
"I am very happy to be racing again in 2021, we are so lucky in New Zealand to be able to race and would like to thank the team at Tauranga Half for making this happen."
Fulton Hogan Mount Festival general manager Lauren Watson said the elite field for the 2021 Tauranga Half was "the strongest it has been in over a decade. It will be an absolute showdown this Saturday".
Mount Festival of Multisport, January 23
2km swim, 90km bike, 21km run.
3km swim, 115km bike, 25km run.
3km swim, 115km bike.
Run/walk – 5km, 10km or 21km.