Tragedies cast pall over Ironman race

Athletes set off for the swim leg of the 2019 Standard Bank Ironman African Championship
Athletes set off for the swim leg of the 2019 Standard Bank Ironman African Championship
Image: Eugene Coetzee

It was hardly business as usual at this year’s Standard Bank Ironman African Championship as the race on Sunday started off with the deaths of two competitors at sea, and vendors complaining that lower spectator numbers had affected their business.

George competitor Leon Stanvliet, 63, died due to suspected convulsions during the swimming leg of the event, while Andre Trichardt, 48, from Durban, died from heartrelated problems, also while competing in the swim.

Ironman organisers had changed the swimming leg earlier from 3.8km to 1.6km due to choppy water conditions.

The two deaths occurred about 10 minutes apart and both competitors were declared dead on arrival at St George’s Hospital.

Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said: “At this stage, we are awaiting the postmortem results to determine the exact causes of death.

“Two inquest cases are under investigation.”

Ironman SA spokesperson Siya Ndzimande said: “It is with great sadness that we confirm the death of two race participants at the Ironman African Championship.

“Our condolences go out to the family and friends of both athletes.” Nelson Mandela Bay

mayor Mongameli Bobani said there was nothing the organisers could have done to prevent the deaths.

“Last year, in September, the city hosted a successful World Ironman Championships without incident.

“These incidents [therefore] come as devastating news to us,” he said.

“On behalf of the people of Nelson Mandela Bay, I would like to send our deepest condolences to their families.”

While the deaths overshadowed the event, groups of spectators lined the beachfront area, cheering on their family members and favourite triathletes racing against the aggressive Port Elizabeth wind.

Ben Hoffman, of the US, won his third Ironman SA title in 7:34:19, followed by Germany’s Nils Frommhold in second place and Austria’s Michael Weiss, third.

The UK’s Lucy Charles-Barclay was the first woman home in 8:35:31, with Spain’s Gurutze Frades coming in second and SA’s Annah Watkinson in third.

Meanwhile, some vendors said they had struggled to make as much money as they had in previous years, attributing this to a perceived drop in spectator numbers.

Entrepreneur Jane Githinji, who has been selling hats, sunglasses and beach bags, among other things, at the beachfront daily for more than 10 years, said: “I have managed to sell more than I would on an ordinary day, but it’s not the same [as previous Ironman events].

“Business is slow this year – but it’s different for each business person, depending on what they sell.”

The event attracted a total of 1,980 entrants this year, a slight drop from the 2,029 in 2018.

Dylan Smith, from Ironman SA, said spectator stats were not available yet.

“It’s a bit hard to answer questions and look at stats at the moment as we have an ongoing race which requires us to be on site,” he said.

“This is best dealt with postrace.”

Ndzimande said only: “The residents of Nelson Mandela Bay have once again come out in support of the event weekend and we are grateful for the continued enthusiasm they show toward the event.”

Mandla Mene said he was glad to have made close to R1,000 from sales on Sunday.

“The economy is tough but it seems people like branded caps and the different countries’ flags that I sell.”

Other businesses like food trucks and restaurants, however, were doing a roaring trade, with long queues of people waiting to be helped.

Accommodation establishments on the beachfront were equally busy, as was the Ironman Expo.

A shopper at the Ironman merchandise stall outside the Beach Hotel, Argentinian spectator Franco Tibaldi, arrived in Port Elizabeth last week to support his father, who took part in the Ironman event.

“It’s my first time in Africa ... and I find that Port Elizabeth is similar to my city, Mar del Plata, in Argentina,” he said.

“We will spend a while in South Africa to go on a safari and explore some more.”

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