Hawke's Bay's reputation as a prime venue for multisports is under serious threat after the 10th anniversary IronMaori triathlon swim section was cancelled because of Napier's Pandora Pond pollution.
Meka Whaitiri, Ikaroa Maori MP, was on hand as a supporter when competitors were ordered from the water about 6am on Saturday, turning the swim-bike-run event into a run-bike-run.
Whaitiri, a former IronMaori competitor, said the cancellation was a "bloody disgrace" and embarrassing.
Many other iwi would jump at the chance to stage IronMaori, she said.
If the ongoing problems with the pond meant organisers could no longer guarantee a suitable site for the swim leg then it could possibly be staged elsewhere, despite its strong links to Ngati Kahungunu.
She said organisers had shown incredible loyalty in growing the event from something initially visualised as a health-kick to get Maori "off the couch" to the stage where it had become an iconic Hawke's Bay event to be compared with Art Deco Weekend in Napier and the Horse of the Year Show in Hastings.
"They deserve some commitment from the councils," she said. "Enough is enough. What is the plan? Whatever it is, it's not working."
The last-minute scrapping came as over 600 individual-event entries and teams section swim-leg entries were preparing for the swim in the pond, and as organisers recognised there had been insufficient improvement in conditions after Hawke's Bay Regional Council warnings that testing on Thursday made it unsuitable for swimming.
Many of those doing only the swim were sent scurrying for shorts and running shoes to replace the swimsuits they'd expected would be their only sportswear on the day.
Overall winner and internationally-ranked endurance competitor and triathlete Dougal Allan, who became the event's first "Ngati Pakeha" winner — with victory by 20 minutes over runner-up Fred Housham, of Northland iwi Ngati Kahu — says that while the cancellation of the swim was disappointing his first IronMaori was a "fantastic" event, he was impressed by the way entrants accepted the announcement, and he will be back.
In an interview on a sponsor's Facebook page, he said: "There was a lot of disappointment, but a lot of understanding on why that decision had to be made. It was a decision that had to be made for the safety of the people."
Wanaka-based Allan, 33, had not had the event on his radar until it was suggested by friend Piripi Rangihaeata, of Maori creative agency Waha.
Allan has competed in Canada, Europe and China, but said: "I can honestly say IronMaori has left a bit of an imprint. I'll be back next year I think."
Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said the estuary in which the pond is formed has long had its problems, particularly after rain, but multi-agency plans are being made to restore it as a habitat for marine life and seafood, as well as making it a sustainable recreational amenity.
It includes removing farming close to the shores of Lagoon Farm, which the council owns and part of the boundary, and Dalton says some of the effects will be in place by the time IronMaori is staged again in December 2019.
Allan was one of 474 individuals who completed the course, in times ranging from his 3hrs 36min 12sec to the 10-hours-plus of the tailenders.
The teams section was won by the perhaps appropriately named "Last Minute".
The Tremains corporate triathlon in March had to do away with its Pandora Pond swim, and the city council's own "Splash 'n' Play", free-use inflatable playground on the pond had to be shut down because of pollution issues.