The Olympic bronze medallist and reigning Commonwealth Games champion, Henri Schoeman, and England’s Emma Pallant-Browne were the athletes to beat on Sunday during the men’s and women’s elite races at the 2021 South African National Triathlon Championships staged at Maselspoort in Bloemfontein.
This year, thanks to the help of the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO), a stellar field was attracted to the Free State, and many of the athletes described the event at the best national championships in a decade.
The prize money of $8000 (approximately R120 000) served as a wonderful incentive or motivation for the competitors, especially in a Covid-19 world where events are few and far between and making ends meet in sport is not as lucrative as in the past.
Both Schoeman and Pallant-Browne were tipped as the favourites, and they certainly did not disappoint.
Schoeman completed the 1500m swim over two laps in 18:02 min, while on the bicycle he covered the 40km route over four laps in 56:54 min. In the 10km he competed the course in 32:50 min for a combined time of 1:48:45. He beat the winner of the men’s elite U23 race and second overall, Jamie Riddle, by 35 sec. Nick Quenet was the third elite man across the finishline in 1:50:54.
Cameron Macnair and Divan Henry du Plooy of Namibia were second (6th overall) and third (7th overall) respectively in the men’s U23 race.
Pallant-Browne dominated proceedings among the ladies and she completed her 1500m swim in the Modder River in 22:26 min, the 40km cycle in 1:00:47 and 10km run in 36:26 min for an overall time of 2:01:06. This also meant that she was ninth overall combining the men’s and ladies’ races.
Shanae Williams impressed by finishing her race in 2:08:46 to claim second overall and also won the women’s U23 elite race. Annah Watkinson made a massive statement by rounding off the podium in 2:10:26.
What made Watkinson’s race more impressive was that it was her first event after being run over by a minibus taxi in December last year.
Bridget Theunissen (6th overall) and Tegan Gore (7th overall) finished in second and third in the women’s U23 elite race.
Schoeman told Bloemfontein Courant that due to severe cramping his race did not go according to plan, but he ultimately learnt something about his character.
“I’m very happy about the win. It’s my fourth elite time, which is a nice accolade. It was a good race, it was nice to be in the mix, but I’m just a little disappointed that I could not get to push myself and really see where my fitness is. I really learnt something about my character, it’s just to never give and you never know what can happen, so I was really happy with that.
Pallant-Browne in her turn said that she is just thankful to be able race in a Covid-19, and the prize money was much needed.
“These days we are so grateful for races and for a race like the national champs to have put up the prize money to get the best athletes in South Africa racing each other was a much-needed event.
“I cannot be more thankful to everyone who made the race happen and huge congrats to all the racers.”
Schoeman will be racing in Osaka and Yokohama (both in Japan), as well as Leeds (England) and Hamburg (Germany) later in the year as he rounds off his preperation for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. He is also targeting the world championship later in the year. – MORGAN PIEK