Marius Acker remains undefeated local champion in the Cayman Islands Triathlon but this one, his seventh, was easily the toughest on Sunday.
Fellow South African Johan Heath has been steadily improving and closing the gap in recent years and predictions were this could produce the tightest finish ever from the start at Public Beach on West Bay Road.
And sure enough it was, only Acker prevailed, as always, by overhauling Heath on the final leg, the run. Had Heath not competed in a full Ironman a week earlier, then the outcome may have been different.
Nevertheless, Acker keeps bragging rights for another 12 months at least, but at 41 his days as local tri king may be numbered.
Acker finished the Olympic distance in 2 hours 09 minutes 32 seconds. Arwen Lawson was first female home in 2:35:18. In the sprint distance, Darren Mew took the title with a time of 1:12:59 and first female finisher was Gill Comins with 1:17:28. First team to finish was tRICS in 2:05:51.
Heath, 32, finished in 2:14:32 with Dean Gaffigan third in 2:21:26 and Greg Meaker fourth 11 seconds behind. Then came JP Hanekeom (2:22:08) followed by Marius Deysel (2:25:05).
Props must go to the vets in the Olympic distance of 1,500m swim, 40km bike and 10km run. Chris Sutton, a few weeks short of his 60th birthday was ninth and Rodger Yeomans, oldest in the field at 64, was 41st of the 51 entrants.
Marc Smith was second male in the sprint race in 1:15:59 and Laurent Weber third in 1:16:48. Comins was fourth overall.
Acker is justifiably proud of retaining the crown considering he was not 100 per cent right up to the 6.45am start.
“This was the worst preparation going into the Cayman Triathlon for me to date as I was fighting a virus infection for three weeks leading into this race,” he said.
“I adjusted my training by lowering intensity and reducing endurance sessions to allow my body to fight the infection.
“Monday prior to the race I woke up with swollen glands and was not feeling well. The doctor prescribed antibiotics. The medication had some side effects and I had diarrhoea all week leading up to the race, including Sunday morning before the race.
“It was a victory for me to get to the start and be able to have an attempt to defend this title. God answered my prayers to allow me to start this race and to have the strength to complete it.
“Going into the race I had no idea if my body would hold up especially in the latter stages when you become fatigued.
“Sunday was a great race and Heath changed tactics this year by opting to draft behind me on the swim and reserve his energy for the bike. Great tactics which paid dividends for him as he got out of the water with me. In 2011 he was 40 seconds behind me after the swim leg.
“My aim for the swim leg was to get out of the water with Johan. I knew beforehand that my lead in the swim leg would be wiped out by him as I broke my right arm about four months ago.
“The bike leg went well and the four lap course suited me as I could track who was where due to the many turns. Though the bike gap increased all the time I was mindful of the fact that Heath did a Miami race leading into this event and that he would suffer on the run.
“The commentator, Trevor Murphy, mentioned that I was 4 minutes 45 seconds behind when I started running. I had already decided on the bike leg that I would focus on the race itself and not think about how far I was behind.
“I was focusing on enjoying the race and not on what the outcome would be. It became evident to me at the half way stage of the run that catching the leader was a possibility and I eventually took the lead before the start of the final fourth lap.”
So is Acker slowing or is Heath getting faster? “This year was by far my quickest run of the seven triathlons I’ve done in Cayman and my time was five seconds quicker than last year,” Acker said. “Heath’s time was slower than the previous two years when he competed.”
Acker was satisfied with the new course and the general organisation. “The race was well organised with more volunteers than in previous years events, a big thank you to all of them.
“I am preparing for the Cayman half marathon now on 2 December and will very likely do the Jerry Harper 10K next week.”