This year is the ninth edition of the Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa race in Nelson Mandela Bay, and boasts an impressive field of nearly 50 PRO athletes taking part.
First-timer and “IRON Virgin”, Jodie Swallow (GBR), who won the Spec-Savers IRONMAN 70.3 South Africa earlier this year in East London for the third consecutive time, noted that she has “no expectations, other than to put in 100%”. An athlete well known for her love of training, Swallow confidently believes that she is capable of finishing this year. Swallow trained in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape this year, alongside South African favourite, James Cunnama.
Cunnama, a keen competitor and a “hometown boy” started IRONMAN as a volunteer and has since completed a Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa event in less than eight hours. Cunnama believes that “the stronger the field, the deeper the race”. Having completed his first IRONMAN in 2007, this will be his sixth Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa race. When asked if he feels the pressure of his South African supporters, Cunnama, who won the 2012 Challenge Roth stated: “I don’t really feel the pressure…I feed off it”.
Czech-born Lucie Reed, former Olympian and one of the older pro female athletes, believes that her experience in the field will count positively in her favour. “I don’t think it [her age] counts against me”, says Reed, who has focussed on IRONMAN 70.3 races for the past few years. Reed is typically known for her luminous pink attire and is currently helping fellow South African PRO athlete Dianne McEwan, in training.
McEwan will be racing her first-ever pro race, after placing fourth in the 2012 Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa as an age-grouper athlete. Having not competed in a race since, due to a “circumstantial” stress fracture in her foot, McEwan was eager to remain in prime shape and took up the unusual aqua-jogging exercise regime; something which she believes has aided her in her recovery.
To complete the IRONMAN is undoubtedly a notable achievement to anyone. To Petr Vabrousek (CZE), it has become the norm. Having competed in IRONMAN events since 1999, Vabrousek competes in approximately 14 race events a year. Vabrousek has completed a staggering 125 IRONMAN events across the globe. Vabrousek is back and hoping to better his result of sixth place in last year’s Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa.
Israeli competitor, Nina Pekerman, placed tenth at last year’s Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa. Having bravely battled Port Elizabeth’s windy conditions at last year’s race, she humorously responded with “of course” when asked about her excitement for better weather conditions this year.
Swiss competitor Mike Aigroz is yet another keen PRO in the male division. Having placed third at both the Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa and Challenge Roth in 2012, he firmly believes in a “fight spirit” on the track, something that seemingly gets him through every race. “IRONMAN is IRONMAN – all distances are the same” says Aigroz.
Cyril Viennot (FRA) who placed second at last year’s Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa is back again and hoping for a podium finish. Viennot has commented on the strong competition in this year’s race. “A podium [finish] would be great for me”, he said.
As an athlete, one travels far distances to compete in enduring tests of both emotional and physical states. However, Swiss athlete Simone Braendli doesn’t mind the distance. “People are so friendly…I feel like I’m coming home when I come to PE” says Braendli, who is competing this year without any expectations after receiving hip surgery a few months ago. Braendli placed second at the 2012 Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa.
German athlete Horst Reichel completed his preparation for this year’s event on the Canary Islands. Reichel is no stranger to the IRONMAN podium and is confident that this year will be close in terms of the final standings. He says it is “going to take 100% and that is my aim”; a positive attitude to have nearing race day.
German-born Faris Al-Sultan, 2005 IRONMAN World Champion, referred to himself as being in a “decent shape” going into this year’s race. Al-Sultan is “glad” to have made the decision to come back and compete, after having placed fifth in the 2012 IRONMAN World Championship.
The athletes are relaxed as they near race day, and their expectations are seemingly all the same: to give 100%. They are focussed on the finish line and spectators are already prepared, anxiously awaiting the first foot over the line. Race day should definitely not be missed, competition is tight and the excitement will be an undoubtedly great experience for both competitors and spectators