JODIE Swallow became the first athlete to claim three consecutive Spec-Savers Ironman 70.3 South Africa titles as she stormed to victory in East London yesterday.
The British athlete finished in a time of 4:34:29 seconds, smashing her previous bike course record of 2:36:41 by two minutes in the process.
Swallow made her intentions clear from the outset, coming out of the water with the top 10 men to lead the women’s field from start to finish.
“I’m really happy with my performance. It was quite tough out there but I stayed mentally strong when I felt the body giving in and the heat didn’t make it any easier.
“This is a great way to start the year, it’s a pity James (Cunnama) couldn’t race because it would have been even more special with a double win, but there’s still time and I always enjoy racing here so I’ll be back,” she added.
Swallow finished nine minutes ahead of Susie Hignett to complete a British one-two finish, with South Africa’s Lucie Reed taking third place a minute behind Hignett.
In the men’s category, Belgium’s Bart Aernouts romped to victory in his maiden Buffalo City Ironman 70.3, completing the race in just over four hours.
Aernouts finished in a time of 4:03:53, two minutes ahead of 2012 runner-up Ronnie Schildknecht (4:06:23), with Great Britain’s Tim Don finishing third.
The 28-year-old Belgian dedicated his victory to his five-week-old daughter Paulien.
“To win in my first race ever in South Africa is great and this one is for my baby back home.
“Going into the race I had a very short preparation with the baby arriving, but I’m happy with how the race went,” Aernouts said.
With the toughest men’s field ever in the competition’s six-year history, the race certainly reflected that in the opening stages as the lead exchanged hands a couple of times.
A strong bike ride gave Aernouts the lead just past the halfway stage at the Berlin Bridge with Schildknecht, Marko Albert and Don hanging behind.
Aernouts opened the gap downhill and did enough on the run to maintain his lead on his way to winning the title.
Schildknecht comfortably came in second and the race for the last podium position between Don and Albert was on with just more than 10km remaining.
Don proved there was still a lot of gas left in the tank as he held on to beat Albert for the bronze.
With South Africa’s strongest hopeful Cunnama having withdrawn from the race at the 11th hour due to injury, Kent Horner was the highest ranked South African in the men’s section.
Horner finished in eighth position, 14 minutes behind the winner Aernouts.
Having hosted a record number of 2986 athletes, race director Paul Wolff was pleased with proceedings on race day.
“Everything has gone rather well today. The weather conditions were really suitable for such a race and they improved as the race progressed.”