Doing an Olympic distance triathlon is one of the toughest challenges in sport, and this weekend months of preparation comes together for the most ambitious weekend warriors in the Cayman triathlon.
The Cayman Islands Triathlon Association has organized events throughout the year and has seen a steady increase in participants in the big ones – the Duathlon, Try-This-Tri and Stroke & Stride.
The build-up events that have been running over the past two months have shown a much higher attendance than last year, so they are confident those numbers will transfer over to the big one on Sunday morning at Public Beach.
There are three race categories, the sprint distance, the Olympic distance and the relay/team Olympic distance.
The Olympic distance is a 1,500m swim, 40k bike and 10k run. The sprint distance is half that.
There were some pros lined up to come over, but due to one getting a stress fracture and another having visa issues with the United States, there is unlikely to be any. However, the association is working hard in the final few days to get some late replacements.
Based on his previous form, Marius Acker will start as favorite. Acker has been the fastest local for at least five years.
Last year was a close race, with Acker being pushed hard by fellow South African Johan Heath. It could be even tighter this time.
“The beauty of the sport is that anything can happen on the day,” said triathlon association president Trevor Murphy.
“The swim can be chaotic at the front initially, your bike could get a flat or have a mechanical issue, and the run is always hot, so even the best can get a cramp or have their body react to pressure they put it under.”
Some of the other contenders are actually injured this year – Mike Ridsdale and Dean Gaffigan – so it looks like a straight battle between Acker and Heath.
Arwen Lawson took her second Cayman tri title last year as women’s champ. Julie-Ann Pearson will be the main local contender in her final Cayman competition before moving to Australia, and Heath is also saying bye.
There have been tweaks on the course. The swim is the same as previous years, but more buoys have been added for easier navigation.
The bike course has changed. It is still two loops for the sprint and four for the Olympic, but it now takes in the new bypass that heads up to Batabano and turns down by the Lime Tree Bay roundabout.
It promises to be an excellent course road quality-wise with the new hill on the bypass offering a slightly different challenge.
The run takes in a large portion of West Bay Road as athletes will run down to Governor’s Beach.
Murphy recommends all athletes read the athlete guide online where the maps for the course are laid out, and they can also see the maps and ask questions at packet pick-up on Saturday.
Murphy said: “A huge thank you has to go to Arch & Godfrey. They are the title sponsor. We also thank Governor’s Square and Red Sail Sports.
“We already have a large number of volunteers, but we always need more. Volunteers are crucial to make this event a huge success. If you can volunteer, then please contact [email protected]”
Acker has had some injury niggles recently, which prevented him from entering the Chicago Marathon a few weeks ago. But he insists he is in at least the same shape as last year.
“Defending a title is always harder than winning one and I am aiming to defend the title,” Acker said. Last year was a great race and I am expecting the same this time. I will be chasing coming off the bike leg as I’ve done in almost all the tri titles I’ve taken in Cayman.
“The bike course this time is more exposed to wind than previously, and the current forecast predicts lots of wind. It is a more technical course that includes the bridge on the bypass, which will force you to get up out of the saddle.”
Heath, wife Jana and baby son Jordan will be leaving Cayman on Dec. 7. They are moving to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which Heath considers to be the triathlon capital of Africa.
He would love to leave these shores with a victory over his nemesis. “I have had three second-place finishes over the last three years,” he said. “Training has been going well, and I’m looking to go one better this time.”
Heath will always remember Cayman fondly for all its great sporting events.
“I have so many special sporting memories of Cayman,” he said. “A couple of highlights include seeing the sunrise over East End on the morning of the inaugural Mercuryman triathlon, competing in the annual Cayman Olympic distance triathlon and cycling the East End loop with friends on a Sunday morning.”
The Heath bid to be a world-class triathlete will continue. “Both the half and full Ironman events have been sold out there for 2014, so I will be focusing more on other types of endurance racing, such as mountain bike, off-road triathlon and trail running events.
“I definitely will come back here to visit. Jordan was born here, and I have been part of the team that has created and started the Mercuryman triathlon.”