Shannon Eckstein will take an important step towards trying to win his 10th Nutri-Grain Ironman Series this weekend when he races in the final round of the Summer of Surf Sports Nutri-Grain Ironman Qualifying Series.
The king of surf lifesaving is aiming for a strong performance in the Ironman races on Friday and Saturday, but on this occasion winning will not be everything.
As defending champion of the Nutri-Grain Finals Series, Eckstein is among 14 male competitors already qualified for the finals to be held at North Cronulla on February 24-26.
That means he will be able to use this weekend’s racing to fine tune for the finals weekend, when $100,000 prizemoney will be on the line.
“The finals series is three days of racing, and 45-minute events, whereas this weekend will be very short-course racings,” Eckstein said.
“I expect to go well but it is just a stepping stone towards the finals.
“I’ve been racing for a long time and I know what I’m capable of but you still need confidence going into a bigger race and I hope to gain that this weekend.”
Eckstein raced in the opening three rounds of the Nutri-Grain Ironman Series but has sat out the past two rounds while stepping up his training regime.
He did six weeks of hard training from late November to early January to build up his fitness ahead of the Nutri-Grain Finals Series and the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships in March.
The Northcliffe star had his first competitive hit-out following the training block at a carnival at Maroochydore on January 21 and showed the work had paid off as he eased to a commanding victory in the open Ironman.
“I’m feeling fit again and I’ll be trying to maintain that and pick a few weaknesses that I can improve on in the next couple of weeks,” Eckstein said.
“We haven’t done the three rounds in three days that we’ll have in the final before, so you’re going to have to have a fair bit of training behind you so you can race hard, then recover the day after, and the day after again.
“This weekend I’ll hope to improve on the form I showed at Maroochydore and then keep improving before the final.”
Eckstein has kept an eye on the Summer of Surf results during his break from racing and pointed to Manly’s Kendrick Louis and Burleigh Heads Mowbray Park’s Ben Carberry as competitors to watch this weekend.
Louis leads the Summer of Surf series from which five men’s and five women’s competitors will qualify for the Nutri-Grain Finals Series weekend.
He is another of the athletes already qualified for the finals but will be looking to tie up victory in the Ironman section of the six-round series.
Louis won the most recent round at North Wollongong and earlier in the summer at Fingal Bay, while Carberry edged him into second place in round four at Torquay.
Carberry secured his place in the finals with a strong performance at the Interstate championship at Alexandra Headland two weeks ago, but is still in with a chance of defeating Louis in the Summer of Surf pointscore.
With each athlete’s best three results counting to their overall score, Carberry could take the title if he wins at Surfers Paradise this weekend and Louis finishes outside the top four.
Among the male athletes yet to qualify for the KNG final, Carberry’s clubmate Tanyn Lyndon will confirm his place in the final this weekend, while Hayden White (Currumbin), Redhead pair Dan Collins and Isak Costello and Trevor Hendy Jr (Surfers Paradise) are in the best positions to make it to North Cronulla in three weeks’ time.
Racing for places in the KNG final will be just as intense in the Ironwoman this weekend, with about eight athletes chasing the five places up for grabs.
The likes of Australian champion Rebecca Creedy (Kurrawa), Courtney Hancock (Northcliffe), and Georgia Miller (Newport) are already qualified but will be using this weekend’s event as an important part of their preparation.
The unqualified competitors desperate to book their place at North Cronulla will be led by Lana Rogers (Noosa Heads) who has been one of the most impressive competitors in the Summer of Surf.
Rogers, a powerful swimmer who has dramatically improved the other parts of her Ironwoman skills, has finished in the top 10 in every round of the series so far, including two third-place results. She is guaranteed to getting enough points to make the Nutri-Grain Ironwoman Finals Series.
Less certain of their places are Emma Dick (Burleigh Heads Mowbray Park), Kristyl Smith (Northcliffe), Manly pairing Naomi Scott and Tayla Puskaric, Madison Spencer (Newport), Ali Britton (North Burleigh) and Brielle Cooper (North Burleigh), ensuring plenty of exciting racing in both Friday’s heats and Saturday’s final.
For live coverage of the all the action on Saturday, tune into Fox Sports 3 between 1pm-4pm.