While injury has thwarted Cameron’s Brown’s record eighth win in Saturday’s Port of Tauranga Half Ironman, with four previous champions in the field, the battle for the women’s honours is shaping as the best in the event’s 21 year history.
Brown is a late withdrawal from Saturday’s race at Mount Maunganui, which doubles as the official Triathlon New Zealand national championships, after his troublesome calf failed to respond to treatment in time.
While he is back in training, Brown has only managed 45 minutes running and cannot risk serious injury in the heat of battle with a major season in front of him.
``The leg's actually come right in the past 10 days, just unfortunately not in time to race this weekend,'' Brown said. `` I've just lost too much training time. I could race but I'd be too scared to tear it again, either on the Mount or by having to race at full pace.”
However while Brown’s defection has weakened the battle in the men’s race, there is class aplenty lining up in the women’s battle in the strongest field ever assembled.
Beijing Olympian Sam Warriner will defend the title she won in race record time last year, when she shattered the 13 year old former mark by two minutes. After a 2009 year that was shattered with an accident with a vehicle and disappointment, Warriner arrives with a fresh approach – recently married and buoyant about her trade again.
To achieve a third victory at Mount Maunganui, Warriner will need to overcome a superb field including the winner of every Port of Tauranga Half Ironman since 2002.
Leading the way is the 2006 and 2007 winner Joanna Lawn, who has overcome her own demons in 2009 for a fighting seventh at the Ironman World Championships. The 31-year-old Aucklander has a specially fitted plate to correct an imbalance with her jaw that has affected her position on the bike, and is a much healthier athlete after overcoming an eating disorder.
Lawn showed good form to win the Contact Energy triathlon in Whangamata last weekend.
There’s a strong presence from across the Tasman led by Queensland’s Rebekah Keat, a three time winner in Mt Maunganui from 2002 to 2004 which launched her international career.
After a stand-down for a bitterly disputed positive drug test, Keat has returned to top form with victory in Ironman Australia to her credit although a highly creditable fifth place at the Ironman World Championships ended in disqualification as she had received three separate four-minute stand-down infractions during the bike.
Western Australia’s Kate Bevilaqua returns after her upset victory over Lawn and Keat in 2008, having had most of last year out of the sport following issues relating to an horrific accident when she was knocked off her bike by a vehicle while training.
There is two other strong candidates from across the Tasman in Canberra’s Alison Fitch, a well performed international triathlete, and Queensland-based Swiss athlete Caroline Steffan, who was fourth in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Florida last November.
Taupo’s Duncan Milne, fighting back from a knee injury, will defend his men’s title in an open field that includes the 2008 winner Kieran Doe, another super-talented performer who has been thwarted by injury and illness in the last year.
There’s a group of exciting young triathletes ready to pounce, led by James Bowstead (Glenbrook) and Jamie Whyte (Auckland). Bowstead was seventh at race in 2006, fourth in 2007, sixth in 2008 and third last year. Whyte was 12th at Tauranga in 2006, fifth in 2007, seventh in 2008 and fifth last year.
Two-time Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander is the only male to take the title back across the Tasman, but there will be special interest in the effort’s of 2008 Ironman western Australian champion Tim Berkel, who has chalked up a host of top-five finishes over the half ironman distance around the world in the last three years.
There is a sold out field of 1250 athletes – 750 individuals and 150 teams for the 2km swim 90km bike and 21km run event. It includes Hamilton’s Bob Goddard, who is the first to compete in the men’s 75 years plus age group, and world rowing champion Storm Uru.
The race begins at Pilot Bay, Mt Maunganui at 6.30am with the winner expected by 10am.