The excitement is almost tangible in the Nelson Mandela Bay as the 13th edition of the annual Standard Bank IRONMAN® African Championship is approaching.
According to IRONMAN spokesperson, Michael Flanagan, at least 80 000 people are expected to attend the main event which is set to take place on April 2.
So far, 2 083 athletes have entered the IRONMAN.
This year sees the biggest ever international field participating with 780 international athletes from 66 different countries travelling to the city.
One of the biggest concerns, according to Flanagan, is the weather, specifically the wind.
According to Garth Sampson, Client Liaison Officer in the Eastern Cape for the South African Weather Service, they are expecting strong winds on Saturday, but on the big race day on Sunday, sunny weather with moderate easterly winds are forecast. According to Sampson, swells will be between four and five feet and the temperature should reach a high of 25.
Flanagan said that the ideal conditions for the weekend’s events would be a moderate westerly wind. “We can just hope for the best wind conditions.”
According to Flanagan, they are well-prepared for the upcoming weekend. “Everything is on track. We are just adding the final touches now. The process comes along for months and months and now, everything is just falling into place,” he said.
“We have the best crowd support in Port Elizabeth. The international athletes always compliment the amazing atmosphere of the spectators.”
According to Mandlakazi Skefile, CEO of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, the event is conservatively estimated to generate over R40 million in direct spend over the event period while also shining an international spotlight on the city.
“This year, the event will be broadcast live on television for the first time on SuperSport. This unprecedented coverage will showcase the city like never before. In addition, the event will be streamed live taking coverage all around the world,” said Skefile.
According to Skefile, each athlete travels with an average of 2.75 travelling companions. It is, therefore, estimated that there will be roughly 7 000 visitors to Nelson Mandela Bay for this year’s event.
“Many athletes arrive prior to the event, at least a week in advance to acclimatise and practice on the routes. The bulk of the athletes are expected to arrive from Wednesday onwards,” said Skefile.
Festivities kick off on Thursday 30 and Friday 31 March with registration and the opening of the Health and Fitness Expo taking place at The Boardwalk.
Saturday, April 1, sees the return of the popular Corporate Triathlon Challenge powered by Algoa FM at 7:50am followed by the Spur IRONKIDS sponsored by Pritt at 12:30pm.
The main event, the Standard Bank IRONMAN African Championship, is set to begin at 6:30am on the Sunday and will be broadcast live on DSTV’s dedicated SuperSport channel 199. This is the first time in the history of the event that all 17 hours of action will receive live television coverage.
The men’s professional field promises to be an exciting race this year as the previous three winners of the IRONMAN African Championship will line up to compete for victory in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Former 2013 World Champion Frederik Van Lierde (37) is not only chasing for another victory at Kona this year, but he is also aiming to return to claim yet another IRONMAN African Championship title after his win here in 2015.
Van Lierde will be joined by USA’s Ben Hoffman, who will be aiming to defend his 2016 title and is a strong contender for this year’s race.
Germany’s Nils Frommhold also returns to the Nelson Mandela Bay for the first time since his win in 2014.
South Africa’s hopes will rest on James Cunnama and Kyle Buckingham.
Port Elizabeth-born Buckingham will be sure to have the crowds’ support in his hometown.
This year’s event will also see the strongest women’s field in the event’s history.
Two-time reigning women’s IRONMAN World Champion Daniela Ryf (29), from Switzerland, will be looking to add IRONMAN African Champion to her list of many successes. She will be competing against IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Champion Jodie Swallow. The 34-year-old Brit claimed victory at the 2015 IRONMAN African Championship and in March secured her 7th consecutive win at the 2017 Standard Bank IRONMAN 70.3 in East London.
Finland’s Kaisa Lehtonen is set to defend her 2016 IRONMAN African Championship title at this year’s race after a strong showing last year.
Another strong contender this year is 2016 IRONMAN North American Champion Julia Gajer.
The Corporate Triathlon Challenge powered by Algoa FM, which forms part of the Standard Bank IRONMAN® African Championship weekend, will see businesses from the Nelson Mandela Bay area facing off at Hobie Beach on April 1. Among the participants will be former IRONMAN winner, Raynard Tissink, mayor Athol Trollip en Paul Wolff, IRONMAN race director, will all take part in the Corporate Triathlon Challenge.
The thousands of fans hoping to catch a glimpse of all of the action will not be disappointed with many exciting spectator spots along the route.
. Buy a copy of Die Burger today for more information on the 2017 Standard Bank IRONMAN® African Championship.