By Mark Etheridge
Team South Africa’s medal chances at next month’s Commonwealth Games Down Under in Australia have gone up a whole heap in Abu Dhabi!
That’s after Rio Olympic bronze medallist Henri Schoeman laid down a powerful statement by winning the first ITU World Triathlon Series event of the season in the Middle East city.
It was his second WTS victory (his first was in Mexico two years ago) and he was also only the second athlete in WTS history to record a wire-to-wire victory as he lead through the 750-metre swim, 20km bike and 5km run.
The day was a case of agony and ecstasy but in reverse for South Africa’s three competitors in the desert.
While Schoeman tasted success his compatriots Richard Murray and Gillian Sanders tasted tar as they both crashed on the bike leg, made particularly testing due to some unseasonable rain.
Schoeman clocked 57min 03sec to beat Spain’s Mario Mola by six seconds as France’s Vincent Luis rounded off the podium 57:25.
There was more history for Schoeman as he broke Spain’s vice-like grip on the Abu Dhabi leg of the series with Mola and Javier Gomez having won all previous editions of the race.
Schoeman, usually one of the more reserved athletes on the global circuit, was understandably over the moon.
‘There are no words to explain how happy and excited I’m about this win today,’ he told Team SA.
’It shows that I’m in great form and I’m excited to see how the rest of the year and season unfolds.
‘I wasn’t really planning or expect to break away on the bike but I found that I was a lot faster in the technical corners on the bike course and eventually I found a gap between myself and the chase pack.
‘My main objective was to stay out of harm’s way as it was raining and with the race being on the Formula One track, it can be quite slippery and dangerous. I kept going and slowly the gap increased.
‘Even if they caught me on the bike, I knew that I would have a good run and end in a good position, maybe a podium.
‘I had a lot of fun which is the main thing and to be able to stay ahead of Mario Mola who has a very fast run is a step in the right direction.
‘It’s a great start to the season and a big confidence booster leading up to the Commonwealth Games next month.’
At the last Commonwealth Games it was Murray who won a bronze and then him and Schoeman teamed up with Sanders and the now retired Kate Roberts to win silver in the team category.
As for Murray who won the Cape Town leg of the World Cup series last month, the Capetonian was happy to have fought the good fight.
‘It was a hard day out for me, I had a very average swim, managed to catch the bunch on the first lap of the bike, and then crashed on some bricks that may have been full of petrol or oil,’ he reflected.
‘The guys were crashing left right and cenre! I got up and pushed on and did the best I could with the situation I was in so I’m happy with that. I came 10th [57:59], not a good result for me but I’m happy I never gave up and ran the third fastest, so not too shabby.
‘Now it’s on to Mooloolaba, Australia for a World Cup this coming Saturday.’
There was some form of consolation for Murray as his Dutch girlfriend Rachel Klamer took the women’s title (her first ever WTS victory) in 60min 43sec from Britain’s Jessica Learmonth (60:57).
As for Sanders she was in some discomfort after her race.
‘I’ve just been in the hospital for five hours getting scans,’ Sanders (pictured above showing some of her battle scars) told Team SA.
‘There were so many crashes on a really dangerous course. I crashed on the third lap of five, carried on then, soon as started running, I was in so much pain after 200m that I had to stop and got an ambulance to hospital.’
That pain endured into the night with the London-based South African barely managing to sleep on the night of the race.
‘Lucky there’s nothing too major, a bruised rib and shoulder and lots of road rash but it will heal. I just couldn’t avoid crashing as the girl in front of me went down.’
Pictures of Schoeman and Murray courtesy of Janos M Schmidt/ITU Media and that of Sanders AquawizPhotography