The Coolangatta Gold is steeped in the history of Australian Surf Life Saving – the toughest of all endurance Ironman races.
This Sunday, the elite surf sports competitors will be joined by the weekend warriors for the 11th running of Australia’s iconic endurance Ironman Race.
Born inside the 1984 movie of the same name and a race that saw the arrival of a legend in Guy Leech who would win back-to-back races before Michael King tasted Gold and glory in 1991 and Darren Mercer engraved his name on the trophy in 1992.
The return of the gold in 2005 saw young gun Caine Eckstein begin his unbeaten string of four Golds – the other three in 08,09 and10 - allowing Zane Holmes to add the Gold to his list of honours in 2006 and Rhys Drury for his greatest triumph in 2007.
Hayley Bateup and Alicia Marriott have shared the Gold three-a-piece for the women between 2005 and 2010 and on Sunday it will be Bateup who will be chasing win number four.
Here Ian Hanson, who was on the beach to witness an unknown boy from Manly snatch the inaugural Gold in 1984, looks at the men’s and women’s races and some of the names who will be chasing glory in the 11th Coolangatta Gold on Sunday.
Pluimers and Hancock have Bateup in their sights
Only two people who have ever beaten Kurrawa’s Hayley Bateup in the Coolangatta Gold – Alicia Marriott and Elizabeth Pluimers and in 2011 two-time winner Marriott will be on the sideline watching and Northcliffe’s Pluimers, a podium finisher in 2005, 06 and 07 will form part of one of the strongest fields ever assembled.
Pluimers split Marriott and Bateup in 2007 and despite collapsing just metres from the finish line in 2009, came back bravely to finish third in 2010.
This year could be Pluimers year to become only the third person in the Gold history to add her name to the trophy.
Bateup thrives on this race and will be at her best on the craft and in the run.
But Northcliffe’s reigning Australian champion and Ironwoman Series winner Courtney Hancock will be itching to create her own slice of history as the only person to win the coveted Triple Crown in one season and she has previous form to suggest she is ripe for victory.
Lining up behind the big three will be a host of youngsters, including Jordan Mercer (Noosa Heads),Bonnie Hancock (Northcliffe),Tara Coleman (Maroubra), Danielle Allen and Kelly-Anne Perkins (Mooloolaba)Harriet Brown (Northcliffe), Tenille Devine (Tallebudgera) and Crystal Maruna (Kurrawa).
Ironwoman racing is getting back to some of the best depth the sport has ever and rest assured that the likes of Mercer, Allen and Perkins will be full of running on the trek home from North Burleigh.
Caine's bid to keep unbroken record in tact
Cory Hill (left) and Caine Eckstein (right) will battle it out once again for Gold glory
It will be a brave man to tip against the “King of the Gold” Caine Eckstein who is lining up for a record breaking fifth win in this iconic Ironman endurance event.
Eckstein remains unbeaten in a remarkable Gold history. He has had four starts in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 for four wins.
2011, despite a scare with glandular fever should be win number five. He is the consummate Ironman professional with a strong ski leg, who is a brilliant board paddler, a swimmer who marvels the Olympic coach Denis Cotterell and who looks easy on the run.
The question is who will fill the podium. Can Cory Hill jump up again after an off-season of ski paddling?
Will Mitch Miller handle the jump from under 19s to opens after his move from the Sunshine Coast to North Burleigh and the renowned coach Pat OKeefe.
Maybe Queenscliff’s craft specialist Tom Atkinson will powerhouse his way on to the podium. Or will one of the older brigade, including three-time podium finisher Nathan Smith re-live past glories. And keep an eye on 40-year-old Guy Andrews – who will be gunning for a top 10 spot in his first Gold since 2005.
Others to watch will include Scotty Higgins (Bronte) and Northcliffe trio Stuart Snell, Trent Goulding and Nick Pluimers.
Ones to watch - Men (In alphabetical order)
Age at event: 40
Goals: Top Ten in the Gold
Achievements:1993 Australian open Ironman champion; 3 x Uncle Tobys Ironman series winner
Guide:Back doing the Gold after last attempt in 2005. Australia’s most experienced endurance and extreme athlete, who is a regular in the Anaconda events. At 40, it will be interesting to see how much pressure he can maintain on his younger rivals.
Age at event: 26
Coach: Craig Riddington
Goals: Nutri-Grain Top 10, NSW Rep, Aussie Board Title
Achievements: Nutri-Grain 2010/Coolangatta Gold 2010; Wild Card entrant for 2011 Series.
Guide:Making his first attempt at the Coolangatta Gold after his first year in the KNG Series in 2010. Is sure to be there abouts after the board leg into Burleigh but the question remains can he haul his massive frame through 10km of pain to the finish on the run.
Age at event: 25
Coaches: Myself, Denis Cotterell, Phil Clayton
Goals for the Season: Win 2011 Coolangatta Gold and Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Series
Achievements:4 X Coolangatta Gold Champion, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010.
Guide:The man to beat as he chases an unprecedented fifth Coolangatta Gold title. Has recovered from glandular fever which threatened to ruin his 2011 race but has declared himself fully fit to tackle a slice of history. Is a front-runner and one of the strongest ski paddlers in the field. Once in the groove, Caine could be impossible to beat…again.
Caine Eckstein will go into Sunday's race as the undisputed man to beat.
Age at event: 22
Coach: Gav Hill, Baz Newman, Denis Cotterell
Goals: Podium Coolangatta Strong KNG Series
Achievements:2nd Coolangatta Gold 2010 ; 4th Coolangatta Gold 2009; Final Aussie Iron 2011; Courtney Hancock’s Boyfriend !
Guide:Certainly suited to this race after fourth in 2009 and second in 2010. But has he got the ammunition to fire past Caine Eckstein. Has improved his ski leg as shown in his second place in the KNG Trial at Noosa. But it remains to be seen if he can match it with the King of the Gold.
Northcliffe's Cory Hill will be hoping to go one better in 2011
Age at event:18
Club: North Burleigh
Coach: Pat OKeefe
Goals: Do well in the Nutri-Grain Series and Coolangatta Gold
Achievements:2010 Nutri-Grain automatic qualifier; third 2010 U19 Australian Ironman;
Guide:Had originally entered the under 19 but under coach Pat OKeefe will take on Caine Eckstein in the opens. Still only 18 but an emerging star in the world of professional Ironman racing. Podium would not surprise.
Age at event: 30
Coaches: Mark Simpson, Bluey Garnsey
Goals for the Season: Improve individual ski paddling and win taplin relay
Achievements: Australian Ironman champ, NSW Ironman champ (x6), Australian representative and 3 x podium Coolangatta Gold
Comments:“Father of twin baby girls. Started training with 6 weeks to go. Spur of the moment decision to go in it.”
Guide:No stranger to the Coolangatta Gold Course, placing here on three previous occasions. Second to Zane Holmes in 06 and third to Caine Eckstein in 08 and 09. Limited preparation but an Ironman of the finest degree. Top five possibility.
Ones to watch - Women
Age at event: 31
Coaches:Phil Clayton, Colin Braund
Goals:To return to competitive Ironwoman racing from major shoulder surgery!
Achievements:Coolangatta Gold 3xGold; 1xSilver 1xBronze/Former Aust Ironwoman Champ/4x Australian Board Champ
Guide:A proven performer over the Coolangatta Gold distance, who returns to her favourite race after shoulder surgery sidelined her last season. Has done everything humanly possible to be primed for this race. Knows she must be within striking distance at the end of the swim at North Burleigh.
Hayley Bateup will return after a year out intent on claiming her fourth Gold
Age at event: 20
Coaches: Darren Schott/ Denis Heussner
Goals for the Season: Finish Coolangatta Gold
Achievements:2011 & 2012 Nutri-Grain Series.
Guide:In good form after she qualified for the 2012 KNG Series with solid performance at the Ironwoman Trial race in Noosa. Fifth in the 2010 Coolangatta Gold, a talented Sydneysider who will be looking towards her first podium finish here.
Age at event: 23
Coach: Barry Newman
Goals for the Season: To compete to the best of my ability in the Coolangatta Gold, Ironwoman Series and Australian Championships
Achievements:Winner of inaugural Karla Gilbert medal as points score champion in 2010/11 Iron woman Series; Winner of Ironwoman title at 2011 Australian Championships; Previously placed 2nd twice and 3rd once in the Coolangatta Gold since 2006
Comment:“I will compete in the Coolangatta Gold until I am good enough to win it one day. Every year so far has been a huge learning experience and I now know more about the physical and mental demands than when I previously did the race.”
Guide:If ever there was a lady in waiting in this race then it is Courtney Hancock who has done everything in Surf Life Saving except win the Coolangatta Gold. Does not have a weakness and a particularly strong swimmer which will be an asset from Burleigh to North Burleigh and before the long run home.
Age at event: 21
Coach: Barry Newman
Goals for the Season: To improve on all my results from last season
Achievements:Qualified for 2011/12 Ironwoman Series by finishing 10th in 2010/11 Series; Winner of 3 Gold medals at 2011 Australian championships; Placed 4th in last year’s Coolangatta Gold.
Guide:Will be looking to improve on her final run leg if she is to go one better and place on the podium in 2011. Can match it with the others on the craft and is also one of the strongest swimmers in the field. Would love nothing better than to share the podium with her sister.
Bonnie Hancock will be looking to step up to the podium in 2011
Age at event: 17
Club: Noosa Heads
Coach: Darren Mercer
Goals for the Season: Qualify for the Ironwoman Series. Finish on the Podium at this year's Coolangatta Gold Win the U/19 Australian Ironwoman Title; Win the Open Women Board Race at 2012 Aussies; Win a round of the Ironwoman Series. Win the 2012 Molokai2Oahu Paddle Board Race.
Achievements:Winner and World Record Holder of the 2011 Molokai2Oahu Board Paddle; Qld State Cross Country Champion; State Board Champion/ 6th Place in 2010 Coolangatta Gold; Captain of Sunshine Coast Grammar School
Guide:Will be looking to improve on her sixth from 2010 and is a fitter, stronger, wiser competitor after 12 months in open competition. Outstanding board paddler and runner. Could prove to be a thorn in the side of the leaders if she gets a sniff on the final run home. Father Darren won the Gold in 1992 and finished second in 91, while uncle Dean was third in 1992 and second in 2009.
Age at event: 24
Coaches: Dan Norton-Smith, Barry Newman, Denis Cotterell
Goals: To win the Coolangatta Gold and the Ironwoman Series
Achievements:Australian Ironwoman Runner Up; Ironwoman Series Runner Up; Australian Board Race Champion ; Australian Ski Race Runner Up; Third 2010 Coolangatta Gold
Guide:Proven over this course with podiums in 05, 06 and 07 who dispelled the demons of 2009 with a courageous third in 2010 and will be better for the run when she lines up in 2011. Has experience to burn, a big time competitor who could well be on the brink of a break through win.
Could 2011 finally be Liz Pluimers' year?