Competitors battle difficult surf

Competitors sprint for the waves at the start of the Otago Triathlon Championship at Brighton...
Competitors sprint for the waves at the start of the Otago Triathlon Championship at Brighton Beach yesterday.PHOTOS: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR
Grayson Westgate and Rebecca de la Harpe negotiated a "chaotic” swim section on their way to each winning Otago open triathlon titles at Brighton yesterday morning.

Over a sprint distance course involving a 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run, Westgate (17), a year 13 pupil at John McGlashan College, made his intentions clear from the start, as he went back-to-back with the title he first won on the Macandrew Bay course last year.

A gnarly surf made for a challenging swim section, in which Westgate dug deep into his lengthy swimming background to hold a 35sec lead heading through transition to the bike stage.

"The waves were pretty bumpy out there,” he said adding that despite the undulating nature of the 20km bike course he managed to maintain a consistent pace through to the run.

Despite opening up a significant lead heading through the transition to the run stage, Westgate said he then felt the momentum of the chasers behind him and was concerned that his running was below par compared to his swimming and biking. But any concerns were quickly allayed as he crossed to finish in 1hr 3min 48sec, claiming the title 1min 14sec clear of second-placed Chris Keogh, with Richard Campbell third in 1hr 8min 7sec.

First out of the water was Grayson Westgate, followed by Thomas Heaton.
First out of the water was Grayson Westgate, followed by Thomas Heaton.
"I'm pretty happy overall with my race. All the transitions went pretty smooth and everything went according to plan. That’s always a victory in itself,” Westgate said, adding that an early morning shower had made for a cautious approach to the 10km turnaround on the bike stage.

Westgate's path into triathlon came by way of a successful swimming background. But his love of the challenges triathlon presents is something that has taken over his sporting focus.

"It just switches up a bit more than swimming,” he said of the added disciplines of cycling and running.

With a top 10 finish last year in the under-19 section at the national triathlon championships last year, Westgate has a firm goal of breaking into the top five at this year’s championships in March.

By her own admission, de la Harpe felt like a sinking ship on the swim stage.

"That is the toughest swim I have ever done,” she said

"The waves were just smacking into you and the water was pretty cold,” she said of doing her recent swim training in the warmer waters in a bay at Napier.

But despite the odd "gob full” of Brighton surf and having to empty her goggles on occasion, de la Harpe maintained contact with the lead. Then, despite drifting off the pace on the bike stage, she came into her on the run, where she stormed into the lead 2km out from the finish, completing the course and clinching the Otago title in 1hr 18min 16sec. Alice Macleod was 11sec back in second and Lucia Vincent third in 1hr 28min 54sec.

De la Harpe (16), the deputy head girl at Otago Girls’ High School, won the under-19 girls title at the South Island Secondary Schools Duathlon championships last September and was targeting this race in preparation for redemption in the South Island Triathlon at Oamaru in March. That event was was memorable for all the wrong reasons last year, as she battled not only the course but a severe stomach upset.

A member of a local track and field training squad and past Dunedin B squad swimmer, de la Harpe is a busy and focused young sportswoman having recently added cricket and touch to her sporting resume, to pack in around her deputy head girl and board of trustee duties.

As for committing to the national triathlon championships in New Plymouth, de la Harpe said she was waiting to see how her results go in the Otago schools event in Wanaka next month and the Oamaru event a two weeks later, before locking it in.

In the associated junior duathlon, held on a 2.5km run, 10km bike and 2.5km run course, Dan Kelleher (12), a year 7 pupil at Fairfield School, won the open boys race, and Melanie Button (13), a year 9 pupil at Columba College, was first in the open girls.

 - Wayne Parsons

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