Australia’s Nick Thompson and New Zealand’s Rebecca Clarke have today added their names to the list of winners of the IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine in the event’s 10th edition.
Nick Thompson, from Perth, secured his maiden IRONMAN 70.3 title by an impressive margin of over a minute, completing the 1.9km swim, 90km ride, and 21.1km run in 3:40:02.
“I'm lost for words. I think in the last few years, I've always wanted to come here, get out of WA, and make a step and to come here and have a really enjoyable day and have a good race and manage to win. I wouldn't have really dreamed about this,” said Thompson.
“It's my fifth race. I've had good parts and bad parts and it doesn't always come together, but when it does, it's just really rewarding. Regardless of the result, I'm just really happy and I guess excited for going back home to Perth, seeing friends and family. I've only been home for a week the last four months.”
Former IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast champion Nicholas Free took out second place in 3:41:09, with Mitch Kibby overtaking Steve McKenna in the last two kilometres to capture third place.
Thompson was seventh out of the water, 26 seconds down on the leader, but just behind a pack of five other men as they raced into T1.
A strong group then formed out on the bike course as they made their way along the Sunshine Motorway, each taking their turn at the front of the pack.
“Swim, I was at the back of the group, I think I got dumped by a wave, I tried to body surf a wave, did a little barrel roll and got my bearings and came out of the water and we're all there and then up the really tough part of the bike course, Kurt (McDonald), Steve, Mitch, all pushed the pace, and I was just hanging on then Nic and Tim (Van Berkel) joined and we were together the first lap,” said Thompson.
The group stayed intact for the majority of the bike leg, with McKenna and Mitch Kibby trying to break up the pack at points, but ultimately it was Thompson who got the jump on the rest of the group with about 10km to go – putting over a minute into the chasing group leading into T2.
“We came back into town, and I was like, why not use the crowd, use the corners, use the hills. Then it got really windy on the second lap and that's where the gap came,” he said.
Thompson put together a mature performance on the run as he held off Free, who at one point closed the gap to 29 seconds, before extending his lead out over the final few kilometres to over a minute.
“First lap on the run with them and I was like, okay, just take it out. I tried to run what I know I can, and I felt good the second lap and I just gave it everything. I can't believe it. It paid off. I'm lost for words.
“Pretty much as soon as you exited transition all the way down at the spit, there were people lining the footpath, and then you got into the strip here along the cafes, and it was just unreal. Racing in front of an Australian crowd, even though I’m not from Queensland, everyone gets around you,” he said.
“I think I can thank them for getting over the line today. Everyone yelling at me, just pushing me through.”
Thompson is in his debut season as a professional triathlete and says the transition has been tough, but days like these make the effort worthwhile.
“I guess I took a bit of a punt the last few months. It's always been at the back of my mind the last few years to give it a go and the last few months weren't easy, I'm sure anyone trying to make it in the sport will tell you it's not always like the sunshine and rainbows you see on Instagram and social media. But like I said, when it all comes together, it's just so rewarding,” said Thompson.
“I guess this is the feeling we chase. It might not happen every day, but the days where it does happen, it reminds you why it's worth it and why we try to be there.”
New Zealand’s Rebecca Clarke also claimed her first-ever IRONMAN 70.3 title by dominating in Mooloolaba having pretty much led for the entire race.
The Kiwi finished in 4:13:43, over three minutes ahead of Radka Kahlefeldt in second and Sophie Perry in third.
“It feels really good. I think it's still sinking in because I didn't really believe, I had some belief that if I had a good day, I could win, but until you're going through it and crossing that line, yeah, it's hard to believe,” said Clarke.
“Officially on the IRONMAN 70.3 circuit, it's my first win. I've had quite a few seconds and thirds so yeah, it's a sweet to get first.”
In typical fashion, Clarke had a healthy lead of 24 seconds as she exited the swim, with Chloe Hartnett in hot pursuit. Hartnett quickly bridged the gap to Clarke on the bike and the pair then rode together for the duration of the bike leg, with a chase pack that included Kahlefeldt, Perry, and Penny Slater about three minutes behind.
“I always knew it was going to start well for me with a good swim and had a bit of company with Chloe Hartnett and the guys, I was catching a few guys, starting only a minute apart. I think I caught quite a lot of the guys. But I just love it, I love an ocean to swim. It was a beautiful morning,” she said.
“The bike played out how I wanted it to. I knew Chloe was a strong swim-biker and if I can work with her, I think we were both determined to put some time into the other girls. Even though it's a rather flat course, I think it was harder today, there was quite a strong headwind on the way back, so we kind of flew out. I think I just was very controlled today in terms of just using the tailwind to have gas for the headwind.”
Hartnett was quickest out of T2 and onto the run, but Clarke was determined that this would be her day, overtaking the Australian swiftly and easing herself in an uncatchable lead by the halfway point of the run and never looked back.
“We first got onto the run and knew we had a gap to some fast runners, but I think I was running scared a lot of the time, but I felt actually really great, best I’ve felt for a while on the run.
“The last few kilometres it was really hurting. I was just like, think of getting to that finish line and just enjoying going along the carpet. It made me think of my mum, who I lost five years ago from yesterday. It's a little of a tribute to her, it's like, this one's for you, mum. It's been quite a journey from when we first started triathlon and it was a dream to win one,” said Clarke.
IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast is the first Oceania qualifying event for the 2024 VinFast IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Taupō, New Zealand.
As the top two male and female finishers, Thompson and Free, and Clarke and Kahlefeldt respectively, have booked their place on the start line in Taupō.
“Two weeks ago was at Lahti in Finland (for the 2023 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship). Up until today, probably the most unreal race I've done, so yeah, 100%, I'm going to Taupō. I was not expecting this. I'm going to go to Taupō. I can't wait for it. I can't wait to be racing in Oceania for a world champs,” said Thompson.
Over 1,800 athletes took part in IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast, with 50 age-group qualifying slots for the World Championship also available.
IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast is supported by the Queensland Government through Tourism and Events Queensland and features on the It’s Live! in Queensland events calendar.