Athletes will shortly start arriving in Noosa for Australia’s most popular Triathlon and Multi Sport Festival. Starting from humble beginnings in 1983, the very first Noosa Triathlon attracted only 180 competitors, helmets were optional, wetsuits were banned and cyclists got lost on the course. In the following 28 years the event has developed into the world’s second largest Olympic Distance Triathlon, behind London Triathlon, and the southern hemispheres largest Multi Sport Festival.Â
In addition to the thousands of age group competitors, including many first time triathletes, the event also features a star studded line up of pros. Of particular interest this year will be the battle between six time winner of the event Craig Walton, who is returning after a three year absence from competitive racing, and Courtney Atkinson who has won the event for the last two years.
Craig has completed just one race since announcing his comeback, the Kingscliff Triathlon and he dominated his fellow competitors. The 34-year-old renowned swim-bike specialist said he felt rusty and â€œstruggledâ€ in the closing run, but he had no trouble seeing off his rivals. Walton completed the race in 1:57.56, more than seven minutes ahead of second-placed Bryce McMaster, however he will need to significantly improve on this time if he is to seriously challenge the pace setters at Noosa.
Favourite to make it three in a row is Courtney Atkinson. Speaking of last years victory Atkinson said â€œLast years race was a most memorable one for me. Not because of my second win, but because of a crash I had on the bike which caused me to have to run to win from behind. The test of trying to catch some of Australia’s best young guys to retake the lead before the finish provided me with real satisfaction. Sometimes it’s the simple things (or in this case the painful things) that stick with you.â€
Atkinson has flagged that he sees the race as a critical part of his push towards the Olympics in 2012. â€œI love coming back to Noosa Tri year after year. To try and change racing style once a year to the non-drafting format presents a very different challenge to what I race week in week out trying to prepare to win gold for Australia at the 2012 London Olympics.â€
The race comes on the back of a solid season for Atkinson, his first ITU World Championship race of the season saw a sprint finish with Olympic Champion Jan FrodenoÂ at Seoul, followed by two podiums in the next two races. He then went on to record a win in the largest triathlon in the World â€œThe London Triathlonâ€.Â However Atkinson reflected that â€œthe finish (to) the international racing season atÂ the World Championship Grand Final (Budapest) didn’t go as well as I would have liked and caused me to rethink my off-season which also directly had impact on preparation for Noosa next week.â€
â€œAfter Budapest the first thing I needed to do was take a holiday. I spent a relaxing 10 family days in Thailand as far removed from triathlon and training as possible. I was very tired by the end of the international season and it was affecting my performances. Before even starting to think about next season planning or Noosa for that matter I had to take a break.â€
A dark horse in the race could be Paul Ambrose. While Paul is a long course specialist he is very fast. “I am looking forward to the race, it will be good to try and race short course again, especially against “Craig Walton” as he was one of my triathlon idols growing up. I love racing in my home country and in one of the most prestigious races in Australia”.
This year PaulÂ won Ironman Louisville and could have easily broken the course record. He is young and very hungry. Pete Jacobs showed what a long course triathlete can do over the Olympic distance at Forster in September. Maybe Paul has the same hunger.
There are a number of other atletes down to race who will also be hoping to take out the iconic race, though most are currently talking down their chances, these include Clayton Fettell, Kris Gemmell, Chris Kemp andÂ Pete Schokman.