Mercuryman showed iron spirits

It took months of hard work and the three organisers sacrificed entering themselves to ensure it ran smoothly and, thankfully, everything went more or less perfectly. The 2013 Mercuryman Triathlon and Aquabike was a resounding success!

Trevor Murphy, Johan Heath and Justine Plenkiewicz put it all together and Murphy’s initial reaction was telling.

“Thankfully, nobody died today,” he quipped.

It was Cayman’s first half ironman involving a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile half marathon distance run. The aquabikers did the first two disciplines, wisely opting out of the tortuous run.

The searing heat at the Reef Resort in East End was unseasonably high for late January but the 7am start could not be scheduled earlier for safety reasons because swimmers had to be visible in natural light.

That meant baking conditions for hours for the intrepid participants, nevertheless many completed – and in respectable times. Even those who did not finish deserve props for entering in the first place.

There were 51 individuals and teams in this inaugural event and it included three pros, triathletes Lesley Smith, Pedro Gomes and Guilherme Campos.

At least it was calm seas but the cloudless skies accentuated the heat.

Local swimming coach Darren Mew, who did the event as part of the relay team, was first out of the water, just ahead of Portuguese Gomes.

Mew, 33, is a former British two-time Olympian and multiple medallist and Gomes coming out just behind him shows how good the Portuguese triathlete is.

Mitch Smith, the cyclist for another relay team, recorded the fastest bike split of the day. However, Gomes took over on the run.

He ran the half marathon in a fast time of 1 hour 26 minutes and 57 seconds for victory.

Gomes won the individual event in 4:11:36 with Lesley Smith second overall.

The men’s field was keenly contested among locals. Pre-race favourite Mike Ridsdale took third place in a blazing time of 4:44:32, beating out fourth placed Dean Gaffigan, who finished in 4:53:09.

Johann Prinsloo was fifth, setting a personal best in 5:10:24. The South African earned himself a first place in the men’s 39 and under age group.

Johan Bjuro, who entered at the last minute, won the men’s 40 and over category in 6:04:55.

In the women’s field, Smith, who hails from Iowa, completed in 4:36:19. Sue Aquila, coach and visiting triathlete, was second in 5:34:21 and ninth overall.

Sean Crothers from Grand Cayman won the men’s aquabike in 3:41:10, a mere 40 seconds in front of Beth Fischer, a visitor from Oklahoma, who took first overall in the aquabike women’s division.

Tony ‘Duffer’ Watts, founder of the Wednesday Night Running Club, was third overall in 3:44:28.

In the team division, Untried and Untested, composed of Brandon Williams, Mitch Smith and Chadwick Webster, were first in 4:18:12.

Second team was It’s Definitely Not About the Bike – Pam Abbott, Jerome Ameline and David Walker – who recorded 4:21:36. The third team home was Walkers 2 who consisted of Darren Mew, Jens Pankalla and Andrew Barker in 4:59:01.

Several corporate teams duked it out. In the end, the KPMG won in a time of 5:33:45.

The organisers of the Mercuryman Triathlon were grateful for the hospitality of East End locals, from the paramedics, to the police officers, the students and parents of East End Primary School who staffed an aid station as well as all the residents who cheered the athletes from the sidelines. Local company Race Caribbean provided timing services.

Plenkiewicz said: “We are also grateful to all of our volunteers and our numerous sponsors. We could not have done this event without their support.

“From my point of view, the first ever Mercuryman Triathlon was extremely successful. The athletes and volunteers proved that this event can grow tremendously in coming years.

“Visiting athletes loved the weather and the beautiful location of the race at the Reef Resort. I am confident that next year we can attract even more athletes from overseas and that even more locals will be inspired to join us.”

Gomes had such a good time that he is prepared to make the 5,000 mile journey from Lisbon, Portugal again to defend his title next year.

“It was definitely fun,” he said. “It was certainly a hot race. Super windy on the second lap on the bike but it was fun. The view was fantastic.

“The roads were awesome and we have to thank everyone in the community that helped to make this happen and I look forward to getting back here next year.

“It is really early in the season for everyone. January is the time you need to be training, not really racing. But I enjoyed it, a good ice-breaker for the season. Hopefully, it will bring me good luck.

“This was my first time in the Cayman Islands and hopefully not the last. The water is fantastic and the people really nice. It really feels like an exotic island. Fun weekend and great time. It’s a long journey from Lisbon but well worth it.”

Gomes hopes to improve on his 26th placing in the world championships last year when he competes again this time.

Jane van der Bol is the executive director at the Cayman Islands Tourism Association. She said: “We’re talking about sports tourism and this is an excellent event to put Cayman on the map for a sporting event.

“The triathletes that came here and participated all trained very hard and we actually had some pros.

“This event was situated between two very large iron meets, so this is a great way for them to stay tuned up and come and experience the beautiful Cayman Islands at the same time.

“This is a definite positive for us which is why the Cayman Tourism Association supports this event.

“The competitors say the race was very well organised and, of course, that’s very important for us because if we’re going to put on an international sporting event we need to ensure it’s done well.

“Kudos to the team who put it all together. And it sounds like, from the athletes I’ve spoken to, that they will come back and bring other athletes too.”

Ridsdale said: “It was tough. The swim was a bit choppy and there was definitely a current so that wasn’t easy. Then there was the wind and run was just hot.

“The organisation was superb. Thank you to all the volunteers that came out and cheered everyone on.

“The organisers did a brilliant job to put this on. It was just phenomenal.

“I came out of the water behind Dean but knew that would be case and I chased him down on the bike.

“I can see more pros coming and international athletes. We’ve all done races abroad and this is right up there, the organisation is absolutely superb.

“Safety is the key thing. The cadets were out there stopping the traffic and there will be nothing but positive reaction from this, for sure. It was excellent.”

Ridsdale, 42, an office manager, will be in the Cross Island Relay and is undecided whether he will try to regain the Off The Beaten Track title he won in 2011.

In the meantime, he will savour being the local half iron champ.