The Gold Coast will be a hive of activity on Sunday morning when surf sports competitors from all over the country swarm to the glitter strip for the running of the 2011 Coolangatta Gold.
The iconic endurance Ironman race, born with the 1984 movie “The Coolangatta Gold” has attracted 217 individual entries and over 300 competitors in almost 100 teams for the 11th staging of surf lifesaving’s test of the toughest.
Competitors as young as 15-year-old Ben Pugh from Cronulla and as seasoned as 67-year-old Alan Coates from Noosa Heads who will test themselves against the elements and against the clock.
But for many like Coates, who was one of the 1984 originals and will be joined on the start line by fellow 1984 starter Matthew Braban – this race is in their blood.
The46.65km long course for Open and Masters men and Teams will see a deep water ski start at Kurrawa, before the fields head north to Northcliffe and south to Greenmount (a distance of 23km) before the 650m beach run to Coolangatta, the 3.5km swim to Bilinga, the 4km run to Currumbin, a 5.5km board paddle to Burleigh and the 10km run to Northcliffe and back to Kurrawa.
The 30.5km Open and Masters Women’s and under 19s course will see the field paddle their skis from Kurrawa to Northcliffe and down to Currumbin (15km) before a 1km run to Currumbin Creek, a 4.5km board paddle to Burleigh Heads, the 2.5km swim to North Burleigh and the 7.5km run to Northcliffe and back to Kurrawa.
The question in 2011 is whether four-time winner Caine Eckstein can maintain his extraordinary unbeaten record and add Coolangatta Gold number five?
Last year’s runner-up Cory Hill and young gun Mitch Miller will be just two of the emerging stars who will try and pop the question.
The women’s race will feature the return of three-time winner Hayley Bateup who chalked up victories in 2005, 2006 and 2008 but 2007 and 2009 and 2010 champion, Mooloolaba’s Alicia Marriott will be watching from the sidelines, electing to sit out this year’s race.
Bateup will be joined by the ever present Northcliffe duo of Courtney Hancock and Elizabeth Pluimers and a host of youngsters, who will be searching for their first victory.
If Hancock can win then it will see her become the first athlete, male or female to win the “Triple Crown” – the Ironwoman Series, the Australian Ironwoman Championship and the Coolangatta Gold in the one year.
Eckstein was joined at Kurrawa Beach today by Bateup and Pluimers as they put the finishing touches to their preparations and viewed the scene of Sunday’s big race, pondering on who would be crowned king and queen of the 2001 Coolangatta Gold.
The four-time winner Eckstein said he was 100 percent fit after his bout of glandular fever.
“I’m as fit as I was last year. I’m swimming just as fast. My craft work is strong and once that guns goes on Sunday morning I’ll be ready to race,” said Eckstein.
“It is only four hours and I expect competitors like Cory Hill to be up there sharing the load on the ski and then if they are still around at the three hour mark then they deserve to be there.”
Bateup admitted she has had sleepless nights just wishing race day to come.
“I keep waking up thinking about different parts of the race – I’m counting down the hours – I can’t wait to race,” said Bateup.
“To win this year will be my greatest triumph, there is no doubt about that – to come back from where I was last year after the shoulder surgery has been a long haul so to win my fifth Gold would be just so satisfying.”
And if anyone deserves to win a Gold it’s Pluimers who has been on the podium four times, but fell agonizingly close to another silver medal in 2009 when she collapsed just 100 metres from the finish.
“It would definitely be better standing on the top of the podium at the end of the day. There are so many factors involved and things that can go wrong and things that can go right.
“Depending on what the wind is doing and the tactics of the other girls hopefully my race plan comes together in the end.”
It will be the 11th staging of the race won by Guy Leech in its inaugural year in 1984 and successfully defended by Leech in 1985.
Following the event’s first hiatus in 1985, the race emerged again on the National calendar in 1991 with Michael King keeping the Mercer brothers at bay to become the second winner of the coveted trophy.
Sunday will be the 20th anniversary of King’s victory and the now well respected Mooloolaba Surf Club coach will have a host of talented youngsters trying to emulate their coach’s glory day.
Darren Mercer, second to King in 1991, hoisted the trophy in 1992, with King finishing second ahead of Darren’s brother Dean, who would return to the race in 2005, 06, 07, 08, 09 and 10 – adding silver to his 1992 bronze behind Caine Eckstein in 2009.
The 2005-10 era has seen the dominance of Eckstein – who won in 05, 07, 09 and 10 – leaving Zane Holmes in 06 and Rhys Drury in 07 to claim their crowns.