South African National Triathlon Champs

Words & Photos: Dean Venish

East London seems to be blessed with big sporting events and the South African National Triathlon Championships was no exception. With exceptional weather predicted and calm seas to greet the athletes on Sunday, 23 March 2014, the scene was set for an epic race day.

Photos by: Dean Venish

East London seems to be blessed with big sporting events and the South African National Triathlon Championships was no exception. With exceptional weather predicted and calm seas to greet the athletes on Sunday, 23 March 2014, the scene was set for an epic race day.

I arrived at a colourful Orient Beach just as the sun was creeping slowly over the horizon, its fingers out stretched and bouncing off the calm waters of the Indian Ocean. Now I’m a real newbie at photographing this type of event and to say I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of it and the different classes was an understatement. So I decided there and then to make the Youth Olympic Qualifying race and Junior classes my main focus.

As I mingled with the throng of volunteers and media personnel waiting for the start of the first class to go off, the excitement was tangible and the air electric. The distinctive voice of MC Gordon Graham could be heard as he announced that the sea temperature was 18.5°C and wetsuits were legal (much to the delight of many athletes). Adding to the festive atmosphere was DJ Rick, who cranked out some good tunes into the fresh morning air.

At the stroke of 7 a.m., the Junior Male age groups of 12 to 13 and 14 to 15 were off, sprinting towards the calm sea where they would have to complete one lap of 400 m. The girls, in the same classes, followed suit 5 minutes later. This all took place under the watchful eyes of the race officials and to the enthusiastic cheers from the spectators who were closely following the swim section.

Age 12-13 groups

In the Male category, Gean Viljoen (FS) had a 10 second lead out of the water over Christian Stroebel (Central Gauteng), as well as Finn Elliot (Central Gauteng) and Jaco Wolstenholme (WP) who exited at the same time. Stroebel made up valuable seconds in the cycle and run legs to clinch the top podium spot. Eleven seconds behind him was second-placed Viljoen, who only just managed to keep Finn Elliot in third place by a mere 4 seconds.

In the Female category, Kelly Farion was in a class of her own. Farion exited the water first and ahead of Ashleigh Irvine-Smith and Jenna Smart, then increased the gap in the cycle leg to around 2 minutes and maintained this lead until the finish line. Irvine-Smith comfortably crossed the finish line in second place and Smart in third.

By this stage of the morning, the heat of the day was starting to beat down on us as the sun climbed higher into the African sky. Midday temperatures were predicted to reach the mid 30s and many a competitor could be seen mixing and preparing their favourite energy drink of the day to keep hydrated. Luckily, I already had a FutureLife and banana energy shake, compliments of FutureLife, to keep me going.

Age 14-15 groups

The first male out of the water in the 14-15 age group was Ben de le Porta (KZN), a full 20 seconds ahead of his closest rival Jamie Wilson Riddle (EP). Just 3 seconds separated Wilson Riddle and Heinz Mittermaier (FS). However, this all changed during the cycle and run sections, with Taine Roelofsz not wanting to be left out of the fray. He put down fast times in the cycle and even better run times to snatch second place overall from Jaimie Wilson Riddle. De le Porta kept his times consistent to take first overall.

Mizan Viljoen (FS) was the first female out of the water and 30 seconds ahead of Cameryn Davidson and Gabrielle de Chassart. But it all changed in the cycle and run legs, with de Chassart putting in a super-human effort in the cycle to take the lead and create a gap of some 2 minutes. De Chassart maintained during the run to take overall first place, with Viljoen in second and Gizelde Strauss (Gauteng North) in third.

Junior Olympic Qualifying 16-17 groups

Local lads Wikus Saunders (Amathole) and Nathan le Roux (Amathole) had their hands full with the top competitors from Africa and other provinces. Saunders and Khaled Essam exited the water together, followed by Drew Williams (Zim) and le Roux. During the cycle, they all stuck together, which meant the run would be the decider. Saunders came out of the transition from cycling to running first, with le Roux, Williams, Hugnin, Essam and van Zyl hot on his heels; and they would stay like this until le Roux dug deep and finished first, some 14 seconds ahead of Essam. Williams claimed third place in a very tight finish in which just 42 seconds separated the top five finishers.

In the Female section, a very focused and calm Madeleine le Roux (FS) powered ahead and into first place, followed by Jaune-Sue Vermaas in second and Anje Wolstenholme in third.

Photos by: Dean Venish

Junior 16-17 groups

In the Male group, placings were close, but in the end it was Central Gauteng’s Michael Ferreira who claimed the top podium spot from a chasing North West Dylan Kruger, who just managed to keep Luke Schlebusch in third.

A firm favourite with the crowd was Western Province female competitor Simone Faulmann. Even though she was not out the water first, Faulmann made up some impressive time in the cycle and run to take first place, trailed by KZN Mikaela Jonsson in second and Celia Erlank in third.

Junior 18-19 group

Basson Engelbrecht (Gauteng North) came home a clear winner, having led from the start. Keeping him honest and in second place was Gareth Jooste (WP), with KZN’s James Wewege in third and only 11 seconds ahead of fourth-placed Russell Gaynor (WP).

The first Female home was Celeste Renaud (WC), who also took the lead from the swim and just kept on increasing that lead and adding valuable seconds between her and second-place Jodie Berry (Central Gauteng). Local lass Nicole Venter (Amathole) came in third.

With such a mixed array of age groups coming in thick and fast (to cover triathlons you really need to be fit as well), I was hot, sweaty and tired. So I decided to take a break and that's when I saw paratriathlete, Oswald Kydd, coming towards me. Now I have to confess that I did not know there were paratriathletes competing. Then I noticed Nicolas Pieter du Preez on a specially adapted bicycle that he pedals with just his arm, coming into the turnaround. They were just two of a number of super-human athletes competing. When I think of the sacrifices and how hard it must be to adapt to a whole new way of life to compete, it really put my own life into perspective. Suddenly, I wasn’t that tired anymore, and although I felt very inferior and emotional, I also felt very privileged to be able to capture these athletes competing at the highest level of their sport.

I had come to this event to cover the Junior triathletes and did just that, but I left with much more and for that I’m very grateful. Next time I will be better prepared, that I’m sure of. Well done to Amathole Triathlon, Buffalo City, the sponsors, officials and everyone else for putting on a fantastic event.

For the results, go to For event photos, go to To get more information on Amathole Triathlon, visit