By Mark Etheridge
Wian Sullwald and Carlyn Fischer were crowned national triathlon champions after a weekend of tough racing in Aldam, Free State. The resort venue event was also an Africa Cup event.
Sullwald covered the Olympic distance of 1500 metres in the swim, 40km on the bike and 10km on the run in 1hr 54min 25sec.
That was more than seven minutes clear of runner-up Jonas Schomburg, the Turkish athlete finishing in 2:01:47.
Sullwald was satisfied with his day’s work as the season gains momentum. ‘The swim was quite rough, but I just kept increasing my lead slowly as the race went on.
‘It was a good hard day out and the last day of quite a hard training block as I prepare for my next race, the World Cup in New Plymouth, New Zealand on 2 April, and then I’m racing the ITU World Series in Gold Coast, Australia a week later.’
Sullwald, a former junior world champion, has had more than his fair share of rotten back luck through poor health and injury, but feels the wheel has turned.
‘I had a great World Cup race in Cape Town last month where I ended third, and I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be fit and healthy again. The knee still gives me the odd niggle now and then, but when you’re constantly pushing the envelope at the highest level you’re always going to have the odd aches and pains in the morning.
‘I’m just happy that I’m slowly building the training load and being able to handle it week after week.’
There were more injury worries for Sullwald in the ITU event in Abu Dhabi earlier this month when he crashed on the bike leg. ‘I was feeling really great and getting ready to push super hard, and then I went down in the second lap of the bike. My shoulder was a bit tender, but thankfully it’s all good now… all systems for the Gold Coast.’
Fischer was second overall in Aldam, clocking 2:16:16, as South African-born New Zealander Simone Ackermann took the win in 2:14:29. But she was first South African, meaning she gets the national title.
A former African Games champion, in Mozambique six years ago, she’s had two challenging seasons and she was excited to stand atop the podium once more.
‘It was great to reclaim the Elite title – a race that I won in 2011 and 2015. This was my first time on the SA Champs podium since 2015, shortly after which I crashed with my bike in the Cape Town World Series event.
‘I missed the rest of the 2015 season due to a shoulder injury sustained in that crash. Then 2016 season had not even kicked off when I picked up a Coxsackie B virus which took me out of training for months, followed by a re-occurring ITB injury.
‘It’s been a hard past two years, physically and emotionally. After putting that all behind me I was finally able to put my head down and train consistently, starting in November 2016. The aim for 2017 is consistency. I’m only now able to start putting in the hard sessions, so I had to be patient.
‘My focus for this race was just executing each part of the race properly, and then of course trusting that would result in a win. To keep progressing and improve my swim by coming out of the water in second place was good.
‘I felt strong on the bike and was very keen on working hard and seeing what my legs can do, I wanted to push the pace, but drafting races sometimes become a tactical game. I didn’t have the running legs on the day that I would have liked, but was happy to see the gap behind me slowly increase to over a minute.
‘It was a very testing course with tough conditions on the day. Crossing the finish line as the 2017 South African Elite champion was a very happy moment for me. Coming back fighting after two years of trials makes getting my third national elite title even sweeter.
‘I’m very thankful to my sponsors who stuck with me through the tough times and am happy to finally give them a good result again.
‘Although I won nationals, my focus for the year is still consistency in training. My coach [and mom], Lynette Fischer, has planned various ITU events for me for this season. I need to get back into the mix of international racing (ITU).
‘This will largely depend on my training progress and the extent to which my parents can financially support my international racing.’
Next across the line was East London’s Cindy Schwulst in 2:17:25.
Capetonian Celeste Renaud won the U23 title in 2:22:53 from Free State Madelaine le Roux.
The bubbly 21-year-old Capetonian, sports-mad since a young age, as she took part in swimming, gymnastics, hockey, running and tennis, has bounced back after an injury/study-induced break in 2015. With the help of newly acquired kit and nutrition sponsors Cadence and Zone3SA, she’s hit the ground running in the 2016/17 tri-season.
Said the former SA junior champion (pictured right): ‘The course was tough, with rollers that felt like mountains in the heat and the wind. I had a decent swim, exiting with the first bunch of girls after Simone [Ackerman] who had a strong lead on us.
‘Unfortunately, I narrowly missed the two front wheels out of T1 after my slow transition – a rookie error. I ended up biking mostly on my own, trying to catch up for the first two laps, and then trying to limit my losses on the lead group on the final two.
‘Carlyn and Cindy had caught up to Simone and they were now leading the race. I entered T2 around two minutes after the front girls. The run was a real suffer-fest, it kept everyone honest.
‘I battled the first two laps and was caught by Vicky van der Merwe ,who was running like an absolute machine. I was grateful to find a bit more of a rhythm in the last 5km, and came in fifth overall and 1st u23. I was happy to claim the U23 title, but I know I have a lot more to work on going forward.
‘Big ups to Simone for her blistering race and win overall, and to Carlyn and Cindy for their podium. It’s an honour racing with these ladies.’
Le Roux, 2014 African Youth Games champion, was a shattered soul after her race, coming home in 2:39:30, a time she will want to forget in a hurry.
‘I had my wisdom teeth removed about two weeks ago and after I started training again I got sick just before SA’s. Today’s heat also hit me very hard and I was ever so close to pulling out during the run.
‘But with the help of my coach Jon Rumbelow I managed to finish. But I’ve never been so close to breaking point in a race as this time. It was a real tough experience. Anyway, onwards and upwards for the following race and let’s hope my health gets better.’
The junior win went to Jayme Vermaas and the 2014 Junior Olympian said her and her coaching staff had been targeting this event as a ‘A Race’.
‘After two wonderfully calm days pre-race, we woke up to a very strong wind and a cold morning. This definitely added a different dimension to an already challenging and hilly course set out by the local organisers, Free State Triathlon.
‘I was very happy that the water temp was OK though which allowed for a non-wetsuit race. I exited the water in third and on the heels of my fellow European Cup team member Shanae Williams and another Western Province athlete.
‘I really pushed hard up the small hill towards the bike transition and had a very good transition that allowed me a small gap on a couple of athletes.
‘Once on the bike I established a small gap of 20-25 sec on Shanae, and a minute behind a small pack worked hard to close the gap on us two.
‘The cycle route was very hilly and the constant direction change in the strong wind really challenged me. But I worked very hard and kept my lead to the end of the bike leg.
‘Once on the run I pushed very hard and had faith in my running abilities that I could keep the gap. I won with close to a minute and even had time to relax and enjoy the last 100m. I’m very happy to win the SA Junior title after three second placings.
‘Now its back to the drawing board and planning my preparations for the Africa Champs, in Tunisia in May.
‘I must say a big thank-you to all that was involved in the event and for giving their time and energy to give us all these events, that allow us as athletes to do what us love, racing and competing in triathlon.