By Mark Etheridge
It was a case of agony and ecstasy for South African triathletes Wian Sullwald and Henri Schoeman on the world circuit this weekend.
While Rio Olympics bronze medallist Schoeman was forced to withdraw during the run leg, Sullwald had a confidence-boosting 10th spot at the ITU World Triathlon Stockholm in Sweden.
Schoeman was joint fourth out of the water after the 1500-metre swim and at first glimpse, ending 35sec back on the bike leg, gave little reason for concern.
But unbeknownst to him, he’d been fighting more than his opponents on the bike leg.
‘Very disappointed to have pulled out of the race because of severe cramping. It was very confusing because I was in control,’ said Schoeman on social media afterwards.
‘I learned after the race that my brakes had moved because of the bumps of the cobbles at about halfway and were touching the wheel pretty bad, which explains the sudden “fatigue” feeling in my legs.
‘It’s unfortunate, but I’ll move on and be back ready for Rotterdam.’
Sullwald meanwhile, clocked 1hr 50min 40sec as Britain’s Jonathan Brownlee won his first race of the year.
Brownlee won in 1:49:10, with only 1min 30sec separating the top 10 athletes. Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt was second in 1:49:28 and Pierre Le Corre of France third in the same time.
The results means that Sullwald now has two top-10 finishes on the international circuit after a ninth spot at the Gold Coast, Australia, event.
His latest finish sees him moving up 16 slots to 21st in the World Series rankings. Two-time Olympian Richard Murray is third and Schoeman is 12th.
The hugely talented Sullwald is a former world junior champion, but has often had to endure bouts of illness and injury in his burgeoning career.
‘Everybody was racing flat from the start, with nobody willing to relent,’ the Tuks/HPC-athlete commented on his Stockholm race, before going on to explain how he had made a slight error in T1 (Transition One).
He says that missing to throw his swimming goggles in the allotted box meant he had to turn around to pick them up. In doing, so he missed the chase pack on the cycle leg.
‘In hindsight, I should have left the goggles just where they fell, and raced off. It would have meant that I would have been penalised by 15 seconds at the start of my run, but I would have gained at least 40 seconds racing on the bike. Standing in the penalty box could have been a blessing in disguise, as I could have done with a short breather before resuming my race.’
Tuks/HPC head coach Lindsey Parry was impressed with Sullwald’s performance. ‘I could see he was a little rusty, but that is to be understood. It is one thing to train and something completely different to race.
‘The highlight for me was his run. For the first 4.5 kilometres he was racing shoulder to shoulder with the race leaders. When he realised that he might be burning off his energy too fast, he settled to run at a more comfortable pace.
‘I was impressed with Wian’s never-say-die attitude over the last two kilometres. He had slipped back to the 11th position, but there was no way he was going to give up. He dug deep and somehow found the energy for one last surge to get back into the top 10.
‘That excited me because I now know that when he is racing fit, he can fight for the win.’
Sullwald will race next Sunday in the Czech Republic again before returning home.
South Africa had a third representative in the Stockholm mix in the form of Gillian Sanders. She had a mixed bag of results in the Canadian block of her season and had to undergo blood tests back home in London.
Luckily, tests revealed little more than high iron levels and a slightly elevated white-blood cell count.
She ended 15th at the weekend in 2:05:48 as Bermuda’s Flora Duffy won in 2:00:09 from Britain’s Jessica Learmonth (2:01:30) and Australia’s Ashleigh Gentle (2:01:42).
After the swim leg, the former Pietermaritzburg athlete had some catching up to do, something she did to good effect on both the bike and run legs.
The result sees Sanders climb three positions to 24th place, while Duffy retained her top spot on the women’s rankings.
Pictures of Schoeman and Sullwald courtesy of Janos M Schmidt/International Triathlon Union (ITU)