Royalty reigns in emotionally charged day at the Coates Hire Coolangatta Gold
The reigning king and queen of the Coates Hire Coolangatta Gold, Ali Day and Courtney Hancock will sit on their thrones for another year, after holding off a host of potential usurpers today.
Day, from Surfers Paradise, won a record-equalling fifth title in the gruelling 41.8km course, while Hancock (Northcliffe) outlasted a fast-finishing Allie Britton (North Burleigh) to win for the third time.
Neither win was easy, even for Day who finished in 3 hours 52 minutes and 15 seconds, more than six minutes ahead of the sport’s greatest Ironman, Shannon Eckstein (Northcliffe), who was returning to the race for the first time in a decade.
New Zealander Cory Taylor (Northcliffe) finished third with one of the fastest run legs of the day.
Eckstein threw plenty at Day in the first half of the race, matching him in the opening 23km ski leg and stealing a 20m advantage into the short run from Miami to Burleigh Heads.
But as they entered the water at Burleigh for the 3.5km swim, Day had taken the lead, and he stretched his advantage to one minute and 40 seconds in the swim.
From there he flew supreme as he moved further away from the field before roaring with delight as he lifted the tape at the finish line.
“I’m ecstatic, over the moon and there is a lot of relief there as well,” he said.
“I’m just really proud of myself and everyone today. It’s an incredible feeling.
“When I first came into this race it wasn’t about winning titles, it was about being the best Ali Day there is.
“As each year has gone by and I have won another one it was once again never about breaking records and winning races, it was always about focusing on being the best ironman and being the best version of myself every day, particularly in this race because I love it so much.”
Day’s five titles see him now standing alongside Caine Eckstein as the most successful competitor in the race’s elite division.
“Number 5 – I can’t believe it,” he said.
“The last couple of kilometres, when, without sounding cocky, I knew I had a little bit of time, it was just so beautiful to soak that up.
The emotions built as Day kissed the black band on his right wrist and raised it to the sky in tribute to the man known throughout the surf lifesaving movement as “Deano”, the ironman Day idolised as a youngster.
“I said to myself if I got the opportunity I’d throw this band on and look up to the sky. I knew Deano would be looking down me,” he said.
“He’s been a massive inspiration for me and that one today was for him and his family.”
After the race, the question was raised, as it was last year, if a showdown with Caine Eckstein might happen next year. Day said he was excited at the prospect but wouldn’t be pushing for it.
“I don’t think either of us are going to call each other out. If he puts his hand up he puts his hand up – who knows, it’s 12 months down the track and a lot can happen between now and then.” He said.
For Shannon Eckstein, his first attempt at the Coates Hire Coolangatta Gold since 2007 did not finish quite how he had hoped.
Leg problems that have stopped him starting the race for a decade may have been overcome by an operation earlier this year, but he knew the run legs of the race would probably prove too much of a challenge.
“I’m a realist and my running is nowhere near someone like Ali’s is, and that was where it was going to hurt me,” he said.
“It hurt me going into the swim and he gapped me, and from there it was about hanging on for second.”
The good news, however, is his return to the marathon course already has him thinking about starting again next year.
“No one likes getting really whooped like that and I got whooped today, but one positive thing was the surgery was successful,” he said.
“In 05, 06 and 07, I walked the last 3-4k of the run but today I didn’t walk at all. I just haven’t had the time to rehab my legs and get right.
“I love racing and I don’t mind putting it all on the line. I don’t mind coming second to Ali, it’s no skin off my nose.
“With another year of running I could probably drop a couple of minutes in the run time. I’m not going to leave it until the off season to start running, I’ve got to keep going from now.”
Hancock faced one of the most talented elite women’s fields to ever contest the race and was made to work overtime in hot, humid conditions.
Newport’s Georgia Miller challenged Hancock along much of the course, and it was not until the run leg that the 2011 and 2016 champion was able to pull clear and cross the line after four hours 22 minutes and 54 seconds.
Claiming her third Coates Hire Coolangatta Gold title, she is the fourth competitor to reach that milestone, following Hayley Bateup, Alicia Marriott and Elizabeth Pluimers.
“Right now, I’m absolutely exhausted,” Hancock said as he regained her strength after the race.
“I said to myself today there’s no pressure on me and I wanted to leave nothing in the bag and I literally didn’t. I just put my head down all the way.
“I didn’t have any doubts that I could do it again but this is the hardest field that there’s ever been. I was pushed from the word go.”
Hancock has been contesting the Coolangatta Gold for more than a decade and today’s race proved there are no short cuts on the 41.8km course and no easy years.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet that it’s three times but that race never gets any easier,” she said. It’s just so tough, no matter how hard you train for it, no matter how many times you go over it, there’s nothing like that race.”
Completing the soft sand run to the finish line, Hancock would have loved to relax, but with Britton closing quickly there was no time to relax.
“I wish I could have given a few more high fives to the kids,” she said.
Britton’s blistering finish saw her finish runner-up for the second year in a row, and while thrilled with the result she still has hopes of finishing one place better in 2018.
“We all lined up unsure how the race was going to pan out because this year’s field was so much stronger than last year, so to come away with a second I am over the moon.
“But, I can’t finish with a second, so I’ll definitely be back next year.”
Miller was run down by Britton and third-placegetter Danielle McKenzie (Northcliffe) in the final 7.1km from Currumbin to Coolangatta, to finish fourth in her first attempt at the long course race.
The elite men’s and women’s races were started by Ironman Darren Mercer, after a solemn tribute to his brother Dean Mercer where the competitors stood silently in a line with their paddles just before 7.30am.
“It’s a special day and a race that meant a lot to Dean so to have that tribute was tremendous, and the guys really respected it well,” Mercer said.
“It’s been a great tribute to Dean over the weekend at the Coolangatta Gold and I know he’d be happy with it.”