THREE Port Elizabeth competitors – Alec Riddle, Terry Thornton and Mariette Hattingh – will be facing the ultimate test when they compete in the 35th Ironman World Championships, which take place in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, tomorrow.
Considered the world's most gruelling one-day endurance event, the Hawaii race will see more than 2000 qualifiers attempting a 3.8km swim, a 180km cycle and a 42.2km run – the same distances as the annual Specsavers Ironman staged in Port Elizabeth.
What makes the Kona course all the more challenging is the extreme weather conditions, notably the heat and humidity and often the relentless trade winds near Hawi, the bike turnaround point.
A total of 30 athletes qualified for the World Championships at the Ironman in Port Elizabeth in April, among them both pro winners Clemente Alonso-McKernan and Natascha Badmann.
At the PE event, Hattingh (45-49) won her age category and she will be hoping to improve on the 33rd position she achieved in her category at last year's World Champs. Hattingh is a formidable and consistent competitor in her age group in South Africa and is expected to do well in Kona.
Another top competitor is Thornton (45-49), who finished fourth in his age category in Port Elizabeth, but has the talent to challenge the best in the world, as he displayed in his younger days as a star track and road runner in the US.
Thornton has the added advantage of having travelled to Kona last year to watch the race, gaining experience by training on the course and in the local conditions.
Riddle, competing in the 50-54 category, will be aiming to transform the form he has shown in the past three World Half Ironman championships. Riddle won the World Half Ironman title in his age category in Las Vegas last year and he could well enjoy the longer challenge.
Unfortunately, top triathlete Raynard Tissink, who finished seventh last year and fifth in 2010, has retired and won't be competing, but other South Africans who would challenge for a podium placing include Andre van Heerden and Kyle Buckingham.
Among the professionals, the duel between Australians Craig Alexander (winner in 2008, 2009 and 2011) and Chris McCormack (2007 and 2010) should be exciting, although the men's field is full of top contenders this year.
Another former PE winner Marino van Hoenacker could be among the frontrunners in the men's race, while Miranda Carfrae, Caroline Steffen and Leanda Cave appear to be the top three female contenders in Chrissie Wellington's absence. The professionals start at 6.30am and the age-groupers mass start at 7am.