Cast your mind back almost one year and all the talk was about the torrid conditions creating one of the toughest but most memorable IRONMAN events ever experienced on the African continent and for many, anywhere in the world. This year, in stark contrast, Nelson Mandela Bay blessed athletes with near perfect conditions while spectators were enjoyed some scintillating racing as Switzerland’s Ronnie Schildknecht took it home in the men’s PRO field and USA’s Jessie Donavan came up trumps for the ladies.
Once again, Virgin Active SA headed the aid station on Admiralty Drive and gave a new meaning to the name, Active Angels! Virgin Active staff and members worked tirelessly from dusk till dawn to make sure all of the almost 1 800 athletes had the nutrition and hydration they needed. Armed with hydration and smiles, the Active Angels helped each and every athlete to reach their full potential, and just when they thought they are not able to put another foot in front of the other, an angel was there to keep them going.
Bret Glen, an Ironman, says: “Thanks so much, a great effort to help us athletes and I am so grateful for all the support at the water station”.
There was no task too big or too small on the day as Virgin Active Angels walked some athletes to the finish line to make sure they get there.
Virgin Active Port Elizabeth Club General Manager, Jean Gouws said on Monday morning: “Just a massive thank you to all the staff and members that helped us out yesterday at the Virgin Active Ironman Aid station. Wow, what an incredible day filled with so much emotion, as the athletes made their way to be called an ” Ironman!” What a display of Virgin Values! Thank you for all the hard work, fun, dancing and positive attitude, helping out.”
Schildknecht makes victory look effortless
Spain’s Jon Unanue showed what he can do in the water, putting in a solid performance giving him only a slight advantage heading into T1 with a swim split of 00:49:16. He was closely followed by the Netherlands’ Bas Diederen 00:49:26 and Austria’s Berger Dominik 00:49:28. The much-lauded Faris Al-Sultan (GER) stayed up close to the leading bunch with eventual winner Schildknecht and South African favourite, James Cunnama a little way back.
Unanue took his slim lead onto the bike but didn’t have much to work with being trailed so closely by the pack consisting of Dominik, Diederen as well as Al-Sultan. Al-Sultan showed just why he is one of the household names of IRONMAN, making his way up the field until eventually taking the lead before the 40km mark. The experienced German looked good for his lead amassing two minutes over the chasers, Unanue, Mike Aigroz (SUI), Diederen and Dominik. Heading onto the second loop Al-Sultan held his lead while some movement took place amongst the chasers with Schildknecht and Cunnama moving up the positions into second and third respectively by the 75km mark. Aigroz dropped down a few positions to fourth.
Schildknecht steadily whittled down Al-Sultan’s fragile lead and eventually made the move into first place nearing the 100km mark. Shortly after going onto the third loop, towards the 130km mark, Al-Sultan withdrew from the race. He experienced technical problems on the bike on his second loop and pressed on until Schildknecht passed him. The Swiss pushed his lead amassing an 11-minute gap between himself and James Cunnama who moved into second place 20km before T2. Schildknecht was first into T2 and started the run with a substantial lead. Cunnama entered T2 with a large group of athletes consisting of Aigroz, Diederen, Georg Swoboda (AUT), François Chabaud (FRA) and Hervé Faure (FRA), which meant that after the T2 exit he exited in seventh place. Viennot, Diederen, Aigroz, Kent Horner (RSA), and Cunnama made up the trailing pack going onto the run.
After 8km on the run, Cunnama pulled out of the race leaving the Diederen and Viennot to make up time against the efficient Schildknecht. His lead proved to be too much in the end and the 8-time IRONMAN Switzerland winner added the Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa title to his name in fine style winning in a time of 08:11:23, some 8 minutes ahead of the second placed Viennot who repeated his 2012 feat this year in 08:19:50. Bas Diederen made up third spot in a time of 08:20:08.
Donavan leaves it late but finishes strong
Great Britain’s Jodie Swallow was the headline act in a dominant display in her debut full IRONMAN race but USA’s Jessie Donavan stole the headlines to take her first Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa title.
Swallow, known for being a powerful athlete who takes charge from the outset, did exactly that, gaining an early advantage on the swim with a time of 00:49:55. Czech athlete but local favourite, Lucie Reed made her way up into second place on the swim exiting the water in second place in 00:52:16, while Donavan was some way back with a swim time of 01:07:10.
Swallow took full advantage of the good conditions getting into a good rhythm on the bike leg which she maintained, increasing her lead. In the early exchanges on the bike, Swallow’s nearest rivals were Reed and Dede Griesbauer (USA) who battled to stay in touch with the former IRONMAN 70.3 world champion. After the 120km mark Swallow held a lead of 8 minutes and looked strong. She completed her third loop and headed into transition going onto the run with a massive 18 minute lead, a seemingly comfortable one. She was in the top 20 overall at the time.
The only movement on the bike took place behind Swallow as Reed was overtaken by the 2011 runner-up, Simone Braendli although the chasing ladies were close throughout and headed into T2 with not much between them.
Swallow’s lead seemed insurmountable and her rhythm on the bike suggested that she’d have no trouble with the run, but like others before her, the Spec-Savers IRONMAN South Africa run proved to be the deciding factor. The three-time IRONMAN 70.3 South Africa winner started to struggle heading toward the back end of the run, still with a considerable lead. Braendli meanwhile could not hold onto her second place on the run as Reed and Donavan and moved ahead into the podium positions. The American Donavan took advantage and with less than 10km to go started to cut into Swallows lead to eventually beat her to the post in a time of 09:10:57 and winning with a lead of 6 minutes and a run split of 03:09:11. In her first full distance IRONMAN event, Swallow finished second in 09:16:59 and 2009 winner, Lucie Reed made up third place with a time of 09:27:06.
Top 10 Males
1. Ronnie Schildknecht (SUI) 08:11:23
2. Cyril Viennot (FRA) 08:19:50
3. Bas Diederen (NED) 08:20:08
4. Horst Reichel (GER) 08:22:33
5. François Chabaud (FRA) 08:29:29
6. Hervé Faure (FRA) 08:34:19
7. Berger Dominik (AUT) 08:43:52
8. Kent Horner (RSA) 08:44:31
9. Karol Dzalaj (SVK) 08:45:41
10. Michael Davidson (RSA) 08:47:39
Top 5 Females
1. Jessie Donavan (USA) 09:10:57
2. Jodie Ann Swallow (GBR) 09:16:59
3. Lucie Reed (CZE) 09:27:06
4. Simone Braendli (SUI) 09:32:23
5. Dianne McEwan (RSA) 09:12:55
Virgin Active SA is the official Health and Wellness partner to Ironman SA.