Maybe life really does begin at 40… For those chaps out there thinking that the only way is down after reaching the milestone, take a leaf out of veteran athlete Courtney Ogden’s book.
The 41-year-old took on the challenge of competing in the second edition of the lucrative MetaMan Bintan ironman triathlon at the end of August, and defeated his younger rivals after pulling away during the running phase of the three-disciplined event. Ogden completed the 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42.2km run in eight hours, 31 minutes and 27 seconds – giving him a comfortable winning margin of 10-and-a-half minutes. His performance also landed him the not insignificant first prize of US$40,000.
Tim Berkel, another Australian, took second place and US$16,000 in the men’s race, with Sweden’s Freddie Croneborg rounding of the podium places in third.
Joining Ogden in the winner’s circle was Caroline Steffen of Switzerland who delivered a dominating wire-to-wire performance on her way to claiming the women’s crown.
Behind Steffen came a pair of Kiwis, with Gina Crawford securing the runner’s-up spot ahead of defending women’s champion Candice Hammond.
While Ogden used his many years of iron-distance experience to clinch the win, fellow Australian Courtney Atkinson, making his debut over the distance, learned the hard way that possessing an impressive short-course CV is no guarantee of success in the longer format. It was Atkinson who led all the pros out of the crystal clear waters of the South China Sea, taking an almost four-minute lead with him out onto the bike leg.
While Atkinson rode the entire 180km on his own, Ogden, Berkel and David Dellow stuck together on the brutally tough but beautiful bike course. However, the extreme heat and humidity of racing just north of the equator added an extra dose of pain, and soon competitors were falling by the wayside.
Atkinson maintained a four-minute lead after recording 4:36 for the bike leg and looked strong on the first of six laps of a picturesque 7km loop that comprised the run course. But then the wheels of the rookie’s bus fell spectacularly off and he stuttered to a halt on the second lap and failed to complete the course.
Ogden, though, was going from strength to strength as his rivals faltered, keeping a steady pace throughout, and he was understandably ecstatic as he reached the finish line.
“That was a tough course, and obviously the heat and humidity makes it extra tough,” the champion said. “But I’ve worked really hard the last six weeks to prepare for this, and did all the right things.
“That’s probably more prize money than I’ve won over the last five years, so I’m obviously over the moon.”
Despite entering the run phase behind pace-setter Atkinson, Ogden insists he was always confident of pulling through.
“When I started the run, I felt good, and I could tell the other runners weren’t going so well as I passed Tim [Berkel] straight away,” he added.
“And then not long into the run, Courtney Atkinson succumbed. I don’t know what happened, maybe a nutrition issue because he is a great athlete. But it was his first race (of this distance) so not totally unexpected.
“I never thought about the win at any stage until I was closing in on the finishing line. Anything can happen, especially in these conditions. But I’m used to the conditions and I’ve raced in them before. I got my nutrition sorted out, but that being said, you just never know what’s going to happen.”
Steffen, who won the women’s event in 9:13:57, said: “I had so much fun out there today.
“After my last race, I was a bit disappointed, so I got a new bike from my sponsors and that made a huge difference.
“I was happy with the swim, and then with my run I just tried to stay in control. I was running with a heart rate monitor today for the first time, and I just tried to be smart, drink a lot and eat a lot and push through.
“I always felt like there was something left, I never went to the limit. Even on the bike, I got into a little bit of a hole at around the 100-110km mark, but that was only for about five or 10 minutes.”
But what about the course, which devoured some seriously good athletes?
“I had a race in the Philippines three weeks ago and that really helped me prepare for the heat. I have to say the Bintan course was awesome. The swim was just absolutely beautiful, no waves, just pancake flat. And the bike course was really, really nice; I would say one of the nicest bike courses in Asia. And I was really surprised how good the road surface was. I always felt very safe and the aid stations were great. The course was so beautiful I actually had a bit of time to look around!”
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