By Mark Etheridge
Wian Sullwald finally realised some of his enormous potential at the weekend when he won the elite men’s category of the SA triathlon championships in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
Sullwald, less than two weeks shy of his 19th birthday, also placed third in the Africa Cup event, held in conjunction with the national championships.
Competitors swam 1500 metres, cycled 40 kilometres and wound up with a 10km run. Sullwald clocked 1hr 59min 13sec to end behind Germany’s Franz Loeschke (1:57:26) and France’s Frederic Belaubre (1:57:53).
“Wow, what an awesome race,” said Sullwald on Monday. “My very first full-distance race with the big boys and I’m SA elite triathlon champ! I really didn’t know what to expect as it was my first full distance race with a strong and experienced field.”
The closest South African to Sullwald was Wikus Weber in sixth spot overall, 44sec in arrears. All Africa Games triathlon champion Erhard Wolfaardt was seventh overall in 2:00:02.
Describing his race Sullwald said he had gone off quickly. “I decided to swim the first lap very fast to be in the front pack. I excited the water in fourth position behind some fast swimmers. This allowed me to take a bit of a chill on the second swim lap. A small group of four athletes left the water with me leading them and chasing behind Henri Schoeman (SA) and Fredric [Belaubre].
Top swimmer of the day was Schoeman, who clocked 21:44, Sullwald credited with a 22:27. Then it was on to the bike ride. “The four of us cycled extremely hard for the first 2.5km, chasing Henri and Fredric. When we caught them we all worked hard and well together making a bigger gap on the rest of the field with each lapÔÇª”
The 40km bike leg was done and dusted in 1:02:38.
“When we came into T2 [second transition] approaching the 10 km run I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know how my body was going to handle it. But I felt awesome. I decided to steadily build into my run in the second of four laps. I was running with a Moroccan athlete Mehdi Essadiq and Henri Schoeman. I then picked the pace up and run them off in the third lap.”
That saw him occupying a comfortable third spot. “Hitting the last lap I was going with everything I had to keep my podium positionÔÇª I had a tremendous amount of pain, my legs were cramping like crazy! But the support from the spectators was amazing and kept me goingÔÇª they were all awesome!”
Sullwald’s 10km run was timed at 34:10 compared to winner Loeshke’s 32:28.
This victory will no doubt be a huge psychological boost for Sullwald, who was eighth in the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010. He was third at last year’s All Africa Games in Maputo, this after coming down with a stomach bug the night prior to the race. He also battled for some time after the All Africa Games, having picked up an ear infection in the polluted harbour water.
What’s next for Sullwald? “My next big race is African Triathlon champs in two weeks time but there I will be racing as a junior so that I can race as a junior at World Champs.” African championships are in Le Morne, Mauritius on 31 March.
One of the men’s pre-race favourites, Richard Murray, was forced to pull out of Sunday’s race with stomach cramps in the running leg.
London based Gillian Sanders was crowned women’s champion, clocking 2:12:08 and ending 19sec ahead of All Africa Games champion Carlyn Fischer. More on the women’s race to followÔÇª