It’s a hot and humid day as the first rays of sunlight begin to peep over the horizon and drench the sky in shades of purple and muted vermillion. Athletes, anxious from the previous day’s warning of rough swells, gather around the swim start, and everywhere Ironfans huddle around chatting quietly in excited voices. This is it, the day has come to prove themselves on Durban’s terrific, tough terrain.
It’s a hard call to make, but safety must come first, and only the pros will be swimming today. For the first time ever, the pro men and women will start together. It’s disappointing, but considering the size and severity of the swell, it’s definitely for the best. Giant waves thunder one over the other, with hardly a breath inbetween. They line up, their faces and muscles taut with concentration and focus. Here and there an athlete looks over to the cheering crowd and breaks into smile hearing his or her name being yelled enthusiastically.
While we have the utmost respect for every one of these formidable men and women, there are two in particular we’re holding thumbs for: Matt Trautman, hugely successful HIGH5 ambassador hot off the heels of his Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire win, and our other HIGH5 ambassador Gerhard de Bruin of De Bruin Train pro triathlete training camps. Both men are in spectacular form.
The swim begins and they race towards the waves. You know it’s a rough first leg when the pros are struggling, with one of the pro women being hauled back in by lifeguards after the current drags her too far out, and pro Stuart Marais instructed by lifeguards to hold on to a rescue jetski to get out of a dangerous current. “Thanks for all the support out there today – life and death situation in the final 150m of swim got me DQ’ed! The rest of the race was great!” he tweeted.
HIGH5 athlete Gerhard de Bruin had a similar experience, describing it as a “dangerous swim”. He posted his experience of the event on Instagram: “Happy to be alive” is how a fellow pro athlete described the swim at Ironman 70.3 Durban yesterday! I feel the exact same way!! I am thankful that Ironman in South Africa with Race Director Paul Wolff at the helm cancelled the swim for the AG athletes as I am confident the outcome would have been nothing short of a disaster, ultimately risking the lives of all athletes.
“So what happened? The water looked rough, but manageable. Here is what I experienced: Immediately as we hit the water, the rip current dragged us to the far left of the first turnbuoy, forcing the entire field to swim south along shore for 100+ meters against the strong current. The first casualty of the swim came quick as my friend Lynette Van Der Merwe withdrew from the race due to the swim conditions. On the way north towards the second turnbuoy, we all got continually pounded by the waves and the current. I got dragged under a few times, and almost passed out once in the water. In the words of James Cunnama, it was “disaster swim territory”.
View the swim start https://www.instagram.com/p/BG0yr0_J_Re/?taken-by=high5_sa
“ I could feel the fear creep up and got to a point where I thought this was it, but thankfully caught a quick breath in the foam of a wave. I saw one athlete call for help from the lifeguards! My friend @clint.gravett88 was in front of the field, and used his past as a pro surfer on the world tour to navigate the waters – we all could have used some pointers from him!
“Seeing the turnbuoy drift, Clinton went for shore in an effort to stay safe and get out of the surf. About a minute behind, fellow athletes and myself powered though towards the last buoy, but it kept moving in the massive waves. We got separated, and I continued around the buoy while the rest of the athletes got beached by the lifeguards. All in all, we got lucky. I was the only athlete to hit the last buoy, but I can say with certainty that we all did more than prescribed, and that we are all happy that no one got injured. In short, it was a dangerous swim that should never have taken place.”
A quick transition, and they’re off to the bike leg – a fast, undulating bike course that loops around the Blue Lagoon and heads along the M4 highway. They shoot past at such a speed you can hardly keep track of who’s who. Matt Trautman takes the lead, and the kilometres clock past.
Bike done and dusted, it’s just the run left. Matt comes out strong; it hardly looks as if he’s tired. Gerhard, too, moves with incredible speed. The 20km whizz by and then Matt’s heading towards the red carpet for the victory. He finishes in a spectacular time of 03:53:36, with Marais (disqualified) hot on his heels at 03:57:46 and James Cunnama at 04:06:47. Pro Freddy Lampret comes in at 04:09:13, closely trailed by Travis Johnston at 04:11:08.
The men dominated in their category, but in the pro women, South Africans also made their mark. South African Annah Watkinson finished in a time of 04:35:41, followed by Parys Edwards in 04:38:48 and SA’s Claire Horner in 04:48:22. The Czech Republic’s Lucie Zelenkova just missed a podium spot, coming in at 04:50:57 along with South Africa’s Carlyn Fischer in a time of 05:03:24.