PORT Elizabeth- born triathlete Kyle Buckingham warmed up for next month's Ironman SA with a strong performance in an Abu Dhabi long-distance triathlon at the weekend, ending ninth overall.
The first amateur home, the first South African home and the winner of his 30-34 age group, Buckingham said yesterday he was happy with the result, although his main focus remained firmly on Ironman SA in Port Elizabeth on April 14.
The Abu Dhabi International triathlon comprised a 3km swim, a 200km cycle ride and a 20km run.
The former Victoria Park and Westview pupil, who gave up his first love, surfing, when he went to work in London, completed the race in seven hours, seven minutes, and 52 seconds.
Coached by Ironman specialist Raynard Tissink, Buckingham said the plan was to go hard during the bike ride to work on his bike fitness.
"Raynard gave some words of wisdom and he wanted me to go really hard on the bike," Buckingham said.
"I had a great swim and a great ride, although at about 160km 'the wheels began to come off' because there are no downhills and you just have to keep on pedalling.
"When I got to transition two I thought: 'I am going to have walk this 20km,' but I put on my shoes and just started running and managed to run [the distance in] 76 minutes."
Experienced Ironman campaigner and EP triathlete Alec Riddle said Buckingham's progress in the sport was remarkable, considering he had only taken it up at the age of 24. He is now 29.
"He is very disciplined and a real talent," Riddle said. "He has shown a lot of improvement in a short time because you can take five to seven years to become a top runner. As Kyle gets more experience, he should get even better.
"And in Raynard he has the ideal man to look after him."
Buckingham, now based in Cape Town, recently spent two weeks with Riddle training in Port Elizabeth and he said he was grateful for the support and advice he had received.
Still an amateur, Buckingham is preparing to make the move to the professional ranks next year, but first he has some goals to achieve.
"I am living my dream now," Buckingham said, "and I am very fortunate to have sponsorship from Velocity Sports Lab in Hout Bay, among others. I also have training programmes set out for me by Raynard, who runs a coaching academy."
Buckingham's immediate objective is to gain a top-two place in his age-group – he turns 30 in December and thus qualifies for the 30-34 category – in Ironman SA which would qualify him for the world championships in Kona, Hawaii later this year.
"I have already qualified for Vegas [70.3 in September] and I would like to win my age category in the world champs," Buckingham said. "I don't want to put myself under too much pressure for the Ironman, and if I end third or fifth, or even in the top 10, that will be great."