Ironman athletes battle the elements as crowd cheers them on

Athletes at the start of the Ironman 70.3 South Africa in East London on Sunday.
Athletes at the start of the Ironman 70.3 South Africa in East London on Sunday.

Come wind, heat or hypothermia, the Ironman 70.3 SA saw athletes give it their all in East London on Sunday.

Kicking off at the Orient beach at 6.45am with sunshine and a southwesterly wind, 1,500 athletes tackled the 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and 21.1km run, as hundreds of supporters cheered them on.

And while the swim was fairly quick and seamless for some, the 14°C water had others battling the cold.

Lifeguards Lara Ngantweni and Lazola Gobo said one swimmer had suffered from hypothermia out at sea.

“The water was so cold and we had one serious case of hypothermia. The man started suffering and we had to paddle him out of the water on a board,”  Gobo said.

Ngantweni said the man was recovering well.

Daryan Rowe, one of the Round Table relay team swimmers, said he was unable to put his head under water for the first section of the swim because of the cold.

“It was extremely cold, I couldn’t even feel my hands for most of the swim, but I was out pretty quickly,”  Rowe, who participated with the Ironman 4 the Kids Round Table teams, said.

“We have about 20 Roundtablers participating and we were split up in four relay teams,”  Rowe said.

“We chose the African Angels (independent school at Chintsa) as our charity and so far we’ve managed to raise R80,000. Our goal is R100,000 so we’re hoping to make that during the course of the day.”

The East London circuit is known as the second-most difficult half Ironman route in the world and sees athletes cycle from Orient Beach to Berlin and back before finishing off with the run which takes them twice up and down Bunkers Hill and to the end of the small pier.

Scores of families, a happy vibe and loud cheering filled the sidelines at the 13th edition of this challenging triathlon as the first athletes zoomed along the Esplanade on their road and tri bikes, a mere 25 minutes after starting the swimming leg of the race.

Supporting her two sons, Johannesburg resident Charlotte van den Berg said: “It’s a fantastic event and we come down to support our sons whenever they enter, but it’s usually just for a day or two.

“This time we stayed in the Eastern Cape a bit longer and spent some time at the Zebra Mountain Park. It was lovely.”

Pretoria resident, Danielle Steenkamp said it was her husband’s first attempt at the Ironman 70.3 and she was happy to have seen him start the swim and cycle legs of the event.

“He was a bit nervous, but definitely really excited. He’s been training very hard so he was absolutely ready for it,”  Steenkamp said.

Twelve-year-old Grace Zwane came to check out the Ironman action with her parents for the first time since moving to East London at the beginning of 2019.

“We moved here from Joburg last year and we always watch the Ironman on TV so we wanted to come and see it in real life,”  Zwane said.

EL open water swimmers cheered on East London mom of three and creative decourist, Vicky Schlimper, when she came storming out the frigid ocean with a big smile, having done a time of 45 minutes, coming 17th in her age group.

She and 13 others will attempt the Robben Island crossing swim in March.

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