Ten of South Africa’s top triathlon talents showed off their skills to great effect in European races recently, writes MARK ETHERIDGE.
The group of six boys and four girls took part in various events in Austria, the Netherlands and Hungary.
Those events were the ETU Triathlon Junior European Cup in Holten and the 2018 Tiszaujvaros ETU Triathlon Junior European Cup in Tiszaujvaros.
Best of the South Africans were Jamie Riddle and Amber Schlebusch. Schlebusch made the podium at both the Holten and Tiszaujvaros events, ending third and second respectively while Riddle was second in Hungary and teammate Ben de la Porte third in the same race.
Schlebusch proved the value of international experience. Last year she also went to Europe for two races but failed to finish one of them.
In Holten, she was just one second behind France’s Celia Merle, proof of her much-improved swimming prowess.
On to Hungary and the race affectionally known as ‘Tizzy’ by the triathlon fraternity saw semi-finals being swum on Saturday and the finals the following day.
The Grade 11 pupil at Durban Girls College was second fastest in the qualifier on the day.
In the final, her powerful running, the strongest of her three disciplines, saw her making up great ground as she finished runner-up to Italy’s Beatrice Mallozzi.
She wasn’t done yet, though, and teamed up with senior Olympians Richard Murray and Gill Sanders (together with fellow junior De le Porte) for the mixed team relay at the Hamburg leg of the ITU series in Germany.
They combined to place 15th on the day.
Schlebusch, who turned 17 last week, will be hoping her form in Hungary will be good enough for inclusion in Team South Africa at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina later this year.
She took time out to talk to Team SA about her European experience.
‘In Holten, I had no expectations as European racing is so much faster. Top 20 was my goal and I never thought I would finish on the podium. After my swim, I was really surprised to be in the chase pack on the bike as my swim is probably my weakest discipline, yet I managed to exit the water sixth. I then worked with another athlete in my pack and we managed to bridge the gap to the leading pack. I started to realise that I had a chance at a top 10 finish when I ran out of T2 with 12 other athletes.
‘I felt comfortable and confident on the run. I couldn’t believe it when I ran into third position – it honestly felt surreal. The pace got faster near the end of the race but I wasn’t going to give up on that podium finish. I dug really deep and pushed the last kilometre to secure third.’
After making the podium, Schlebusch felt added pressure in Hungary.
‘More self-pressure than anything because I had come third in Holten. I wanted to have a similar result for this race. I do, however, prefer the shorter racing and I feel like this race suited me better.
‘The semi-finals the day before went really well and I managed to finish second in my heat which put me through to the final.
‘For finals, the swim was incredibly fast which was expected, but I still managed to exit the water in the chase pack.
‘The ride was fast and technical, but I managed to hold on. The first lap of my run, I felt fatigued and uncomfortable. I just focused on the athletes in front of me as I started to close a few gaps, I suddenly found myself in third place. In the last 500m, I could see the second athlete in front of me. I put my head down and gave it everything to pass her before crossing the line [even with a cheeky fist pump!]. I was extremely happy with this race because I improved my result from the week before and I felt that I executed this race to the best of my ability.’
As for Riddle – son of former national triathlon champion turned Comrades Marathon TV commentator Alec – 2018 was planned to be a stepping stone into his final year as a junior next year.
‘I wanted to learn as much as possible, train smart and gain more experience. It started off with a bang as I managed to finish in tied-first place at Africa Champs, which automatically qualified me for a position on the start line for worlds later this year in Australia.
‘But first was a European tour, which is where I wanted to learn and test a few things as I ultimately prepare for worlds. The tour was awesome. I raced three European Cups, namely in Kitzbubel, Holten and Tiszaujvaros.
‘I was super pleased to finish in 12th, 14th and – my most pleasing and probably proudest result – second in these three races respectively.
‘As always, the year has had many ups and downs and to end off the tour with my first ever top 10 being a podium was surreal.
‘Race tactics were vital as I planned pre-race to attack right from the gun, it was one of those very rare days where everything seemed to go to plan, which allowed me to tick a box that I’ve wanted to do for a while. Now I’m back in SA, more than excited to head to Australia in just over a month.’