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Eckstein, Plumiers master battle of endurance

Caine Eckstein came to Perth as the undisputed King of the Coolangatta Gold and left as the unrivalled Master of the Marathon, handing out an endurance clinic to his Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IronMan Series rivals along Perth’s picturesque coastline.

On a blistering hot day, Eckstein broke away from the elite field in the third of eight legs, a 3.5 kilometre run, and was never seriously threatened, winning his second race of the summer by three minutes from Nutri-Grain Series leader Ali Day.

Defending Series champion Shannon Eckstein was third, three minutes 27 behind his younger brother.

Day’s second place means he holds onto his Series lead, moving to 80 points, ten ahead of Caine Eckstein with Shannon a further four points back in third.

Earlier Elizabeth Pluimers won her first race of the summer to take over the IronWoman Series lead, overcoming a tenacious Jordan Mercer whose catch me if you can tactics netted her the best result of her burgeoning career. Defending Series champion Courtney Hancock was third.

The 22.8km men’s race began with a 5km ski leg but before a stroke had been taken in anger Kendrick Louis, who was sitting second in the Series going into the race, badly twisted his knee running into the water.

He battled on bravely in the ski and following 1km swim leg but collapsed leaving the water and withdrew from the event with what medical experts diagnosed as a grade two medial ligament strain and possible posterior cruciate damage. Louis will see a doctor and have an MRI in Sydney in the next 48 hours.

But despite Louis’ untimely injury that will likely see him out for the rest of the summer, the story was really Caine Eckstein’s destruction of the quality field – the 26-year-old five-time Coolangatta Gold winner using both run legs as the launching pad for the victory.

And that is not to take away from his ability in the water where he maintained his 30 odd second lead over Day in the 3.6km board paddle, before extending it in the final swim and ski legs to cruise to the win in front of a packed Scarborough Amphitheatre. 

Eckstein said he put his foot to the floor in the first run leg, knowing it would be very difficult to break away from the pack in the water legs pushing into the strong winds of the Fremantle Doctor.

“I knew it was going to be really fast. It’s hard in that wind to break away in the ski and the swim, but I made a big effort in the first run,” Eckstein said.

“Shannon stayed with me for a bit in that run, I looked around and he was there, which was good, but then he faded away and I was stoked I was able to hang on and stay in front and I’m pretty happy.

“I was definitely going into this Series trying to win it and I got a bit crook for round two and it was easily the worst feeling I’ve had competing. So coming here I wasn’t necessarily thinking about the overall picture, but now to get two wins out of (a possible) six is a pretty good feeling.

Eckstein wasn’t keen to think about his chances for a maiden Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IronMan Series title just yet, instead happy with his continued domination of the endurance events.

“Look, you never know, I can go to Coolum and I can get another tenth there, so I’m just happy to get the wins in the long events,” Eckstein said.

“There’s a fair bit of pressure on me coming into these types of events and it’s pretty hard to deal with so it’s good to produce when you think you have to win. I try to do my best, I felt pretty good out there, and that’s all you can hope for.

“To win the Series as well as the Coolangatta Gold is pretty unique so that is my goal and maybe I won’t get it this year but I’ve definitely got more motivation to knuckle down and do it next year.”

For Day, the second place, his second consecutive runner-up finish, was very pleasing given the pressures associated with wearing the leader’s black jersey for the first time.

“I didn’t really look down at the colour of my singlet, I just tried to think I was wearing the sky blue and just went back to the basics today particularly in this heat and it all paid off,” Day said.

“I still lack a bit of confidence. I think that is the key to this whole Series. I’m just trying to go back to the basics and do the little things right and keep pretending that each round is the first round and every race is the grand final."

In the 11.4km IronWoman Series event Elizabeth Pluimers survived the roaring heat, blustery conditions and a brave performance by 18-year-old Jordan Mercer to take the win and the Series lead.

Pluimers surged past a gallant Mercer two thirds of the way through the final ski leg and now sits four points ahead of previous leader Kristyl Smith, and another three to last year’s Series winner Courtney Hancock.

Hancock was third today, while Smith, who lost minutes in the run leg, finished 11th.

For Pluimers, the win brought great satisfaction given the harsh conditions and great athletic endurance shown by the top five placegetters.

“I thought I was confident in the final ski that I could overtake Jordan (Mercer) but she pushed me so hard, and I just didn’t want it to be a run up the beach so I was just thankful I was on that wave ahead and to win is great,” Pluimers said.

“I sort of knew my run leg wasn’t the strongest and all I wanted to do is hang in there as long as I could, but my gosh the run leg seemed to go on forever.

“Jordy (Mercer) is an amazing athlete and she made me work so hard and I’m glad she is up on the podium. The wind made it a different kind of race and it wasn’t as hot as we all thought it would be, but nevertheless it was very tough out there.”

Despite the win and earning the Series lead Pluimers was hesitant to look too far ahead.

“I don’t really want to think about it the overall Series lead because there are still two races to go and I really just want to be on the podium at the end of the year, but to be up there and in a good position is great.”

Mercer, who dominated the opening two legs gaining a 10 second lead over Pluimers in the board before extending that advantage to 58 seconds in the gruelling 3.5km run, recorded her best ever result in the IronWoman Series.

And even though she was caught and overtaken in the ski, the daughter of former Ironman legend Darren Mercer said she was ecstatic with her race and was delighted that she was able to mix it with the big girls.

“I really enjoyed that race, it was definitely tough but I came up with the rewards and that is the best thing,” Mercer said.

“I just went out hard and tried to get my lead from the start and I was able to do that and almost hang on.

“I was starting to day dream a bit in the last ski leg and all of a sudden Liz was up on my right. It was unfortunate that she passed be but to finish second is amazing.

“This is definitely my best placing in the Series and although I really wanted to take it out, my best result before this was sixth so I’m very happy with this. Mentally to know that you can do this and you are capable of it, is a bit of a mindset that you can do it again.”

Rounding out the top five was Hancock in third, local favourite Candice Falzon in fourth and Series veteran, 38-year old Kirsty Holmes, in fifth.

The next race of the Series is the Pursuit in Coolum on February 12 with the sixth and final round set down for Noosa the following Sunday.