Ironman Matt Bevilacqua enjoyed the greatest moment of his career to date two months ago, but the celebrations are on hold in the hope of going one better at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships in Perth.
The Kurrawa competitor, who moved from Tasmania in search of surf lifesaving glory, claimed the Nutri-Grain Ironman series in February, edging out good mate Ali Day (Surfers Paradise).
As tempted as he was to let his hair down and celebrate such a big achievement, Bevilacqua has kept his sights on an event greater prize – the Australian Ironman title that will be decided at Scarborough beach in Perth on Sunday.
“It was an incredible day when I won the series and one that I have been training for for years and years,” he said. “It makes all those sacrifices such as leaving Tasmania worthwhile.
“It has taken a bit to sink in and I really don’t think it has yet.
“We’ve had to refocus for these Aussies and you don’t want to relax yet, you really want to make sure you finish off the season on a high.
“I’m pretty keen to finish off the next five days and then enjoy what the season has been.”
Winning a first Australian Ironman title would be the perfect end to the season for Bevilacqua, Day and almost all the competitors entered in the blue riband event.
In the past decade, only three surf lifesavers have won the coveted title – Pierce Leonard in 2009, Cam Cole in 2013, and the great Shannon Eckstein who has dominated during that period and won six titles, to take his record number of victories in the big race to eight.
“Winning the Ironman title would be incredible,” five-time Coolangatta Gold champion Day said.
“I think me and Bevy would love to put our names in the history books next Sunday afternoon.
“In the few Aussies Ironman finals I have been in there have only been two winners – Shannon, who has won nearly all of them, and Cam Cole – so it just goes to show how hard it is to win that race.
“We train for it all year and it’s the race everyone wants to win.”
Eckstein will go into this year’s Ironman as the defending champion, having won the past three titles before last year’s race was cancelled after ex-tropical cyclone Debbie hit the Gold Coast.
Rebecca Creedy (Kurrawa) is the defending Ironwoman champion, and she and Courtney Hancock (Northcliffe), both two-time winners, will be the only competitors in the field who have enjoyed the experience of winning the ultimate prize.
Hancock’s Northcliffe clubmate Harriet Brown has been the most consistent Ironwoman racer in the past two seasons, having won the world championship and the 2017 Nutri-Grain title, and is hungry for her chance to win the Aussies gold medal.
“That would be a dream really,” she said. “It’s something I’ve been aiming for for a long time.
“I’ve come third in the Aussies and then second, and then we didn’t race last year so after waiting two years I’d love to win on Sunday.
“It’s very competitive, as is every race is at Aussies. It’s the carnival everyone has trained for and everyone wants to peak for.
“In the Ironwoman sometimes the semi-final is just as tough because only 16 make it through to the final, so it will be very cut-throat, especially if it is flat out there.”
One of Brown’s main rivals this week will be Newport’s Georgia Miller, who won seven gold medals, including the Ironwoman, at the New South Wales Championships.
Miller will also be a strong contender in the open surf race, which she has won three times, but will face plenty of stiff competition in one of the most keenly contested events.
“The competition is so strong,” she said.
“You’ve got [200m butterfly silver medallist] Laura Taylor coming straight from the Commonwealth Games and all the open girls want to win and it’s going to be really tough.”
Along with aiming for their first Ironman and Ironwoman wins, Bevilacqua, Day, Brown and Miller will all be busy through the five days of the Open carnival, which starts on Wednesday and runs until Sunday.
They will be competing in a long list of individual events, as well as lining up in team races for their clubs, one of the most coveted parts of every Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships.