Celebrated kiwi triathletes Cameron Brown and Joanna Lawn added to their celebrity with victories in the 23rdÂ Port of Tauranga Half at Mount Maunganui today.
The 39 year old Brown defied the years and a stern challenge from defending champion Callum Millward to claim his ninth victory in the event which doubled as the official Triathlon New Zealand long distance championships.
Not to be outdone, the 38 year old Lawn dominated the female field to become the first woman to win the title four times.
The victories were not without their moments for both stars, who will use the wins as an ideal foundation towards their campaign for Ironman New Zealand in March, a title they have won 17 times between them in the last decade.
Brown found himself a minute down on the leading group out of the water, with German Olympic distance athlete Sean Donnelly and Millward pushing the pace. Brown and 2010 winner Michael Poole bridged up to the leading pair by mid-race and put the pressure on over the second 45km lap.
â€œThat was the key for me today. I managed to push things on the bike and put he pressure on Callum which took some of the sting out of him before the run,â€ said Brown.
The German dropped away while Poole cramped early on the run to leave Brown and Millward to duke it out, running side-by-side until the final circuit around the undulating base track of Mount Maunganui.
â€œCallum is a smart young guy and was running on my shoulder the whole way. I was waiting for him to attack but I managed to edge away on a slight downhill. I thought this is it, I have to make it stick and went for it. I am absolutely thrilled.
â€œTo win this title nine times is very special and to win it again at 39 against the young guys is special. It means a lot. And with eight weeks to go until ironman New Zealand it shows I am in really good form, probably more advanced than I have been for some time. That’s pretty encouraging too.â€
Millward, who beat Brown at Mount Maunganui last year and at the Taupo Half last month, said it was a tough battle.
â€œI am disappointed but at the same time pleased,â€ Millward said. â€œWe went neck and neck and I gave it my best shot. At 39 years old Cameron still goes pretty good. I will learn a lot from this for the future.â€
Lawn was first out of the 2km two-lap swim in Pilot Bay but was rounded up by Auckland’s Belinda Harper at the end of the first lap of the bike after suffering from some mechanical issues.
â€œThe rear wheel kept locking up. So I stopped and thought it was fixed but it rubbed a bit more on the second lap. I just had to stay patient though and cope with it.â€
She came off the 90km bike with Harper, well clear of any chasers but Lawn quickly asserted herself to run away for the win in 4:22.54.
â€œI am very blessed to win a race like this so to win four of them is really special and I am very happy,â€ Lawn said.
â€œHaving come off base training though it hurt, because the body was not used to working at this level of intensity.â€
And the most satisfying aspect of the race for the champion?
â€œThe finish line, of course. I will now step into the preparation or Ironman New Zealand with a good win under my belt, knowing I am fit and injury free. That gives me confidence.â€
Harper faded on the run with Auckland’s Hannah Lawrence moving through the field for a career-best second place on the back of the fastest run split of 1:28.23 for half marathon with Dunedin’s Tamsyn Hayes third.
One of the pre-race favourites, local athlete Michelle Bremer, the recent Ironman Western Australia winner, lost 15 minutes with a puncture early on in the bike but recovered to finish sixth.
Leading men’s team was the local Rehab Physio Centre in 3:45.40 with mixed team winners BlueSeventy second fastest in 3:52.27 from Team Brick in 3:52.42.
Provisional results, Port of Tauranga Half (2km swim 90km bike 21km run):
Elite men: Cameron Brown (Auckland) 3:53.42, 1; Callum Millward (Auckland) 3:54.18, 2; Tim Berkel (Australia) 4:01.28, 3; Shanon Stallard (New Plymouth) 4:06.51, 4; Daniel Plews (Auckland) 4â€08.00, 5.
Elite women: Joanna Lawn (Auckland) 4:22.54, 1; Hannah Lawrence (Auckland) 4:29.37, 2; Tamsyn Hayes (Dunedin) 4:30.16, 3; Elaine Brent (Wellington) 4:31.54, 4; Belinda Harper (Auckland) 4:32.16, 5.
Teams: Rehab Physio Centre (Mt Maunganui) 3:45.40, 1; BlueSeventy 3:52.27, 2; Team Brick 3:52.42, 3.
NOTE: Images and updated results to come.