By Michael Flanagan
With the PRO athletes in a confident mood the atmosphere at the Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa Pre-Race Press Conference was relaxed before the big day. The press conference was held at the Beach Hotel in Port Elizabeth on 23 April 2010 at 10:00 and was attended by PRO athletes, event organisers and sponsors on a slightly gloomy Friday morning.
The room was filled with some of the world’s foremost triathlon talent with some of the best triathletes in the game present. The feeling of excitement at hosting the 6th edition of the event was echoed by Councillor Eric Mgwanza. “It gives us great pleasure to host the 6th edition of the Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa triathlon. It is the most challenging endurance event in the world and Nelson Mandela Bay residents have taken it to their hearts,” said Mgwanza.
Speaking about the beauty of the region, Cllr Mgwanza said that Nelson Mandela Bay had the fourth best coastal climate in the world and the region is “surrounded by wildlife paradise.” He added that, “every year the profile of the Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa is raised. “We are determined that this will be the best Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa,” said Mgwanza.
Spec-Savers CEO, Bryan Dowley extended a warm welcome to all the athletes and is expecting an open race but the people will be getting behind our local athletes. “It is a privilege to be part of the event,” said Dowley.
Mandla Madwara from Triangle Events was in upbeat mood ahead of the weekend’s festivities saying: “We really appreciate that the Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa is becoming a second home to the athletes.” He exclaimed that the numbers have grown which is testament to the team that they are working with.
Local hero and 2005 champion, Raynard Tissink is hoping to capture the title for the second time. Tissink who picked up an injury which kept him out of the 2010 Spec-Savers Ironman 70.3 felt that the injury was a blessing in disguise. “The injury meant two months off. I feel prepared, fresher physically and mentally [although] I’m not 100% sure of what shape I’m in,” said Tissink.
2008 champion, Stephen Bayliss (GBR) said that 2009 was a disappointing year. “At this stage I feel better than I did last year. I’m sticking to my game plan, hoping to have a good, solid race,” said Bayliss.
Mathias Hecht from Switzerland had a good 2009 coming 13th at the Ironman World Championship. Hecht said that he feels, “well prepared and is looking forward to the race.” He prefers a tough course, windy with rough roads. “I like a tough race,” said Hecht.
South African, James Cunnama, who felt that his 2nd place finish at Ironman Austria was a breakthrough for him, said that the local support is fantastic. “The support is fantastic and I just soak it up. You notice it when you compete in other countries and it’s not there,” said Cunamma.
Defending women’s champion, Czech, Lucie Zelenkova said that her tactics will be similar to last year. “I will go hard on the swim and the bike but my run is stronger this year,” said Zelenkova.
2008 champion, Bella Bayliss (GBR) who is ranked number one in the world decided to make the Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa her first race of the year. She retired from the race last year and doesn’t want to make the same mistakes this time around. “I made some mistakes, learnt from them and I’m hoping to have a strong, solid race on Sunday,” said Bayliss.
Belgian, Tine Deckers and Swiss, Caroline Steffen were also present. Deckers, who is strong on the bike is hoping to have a strong cycle although she conceded that there are other women who are strong cyclists. Steffen, who turned PRO just over a year ago, said: “I will go hard and hope it’s a good day.” Flying the South African flag, Caroline Koll felt that her preparation is going well. “I’m improving my times and my race will come down to the run,” said Koll.
This year’s race will be anyone’s game as the talent in this year’s PRO field is truly something to behold.