May 3rd 2003 and it was sunshine and clear skies again in Busselton for the second year in a row. Perfect weather blessed the inaugural Busselton Half Ironman and it seemed that the gods were smiling on competitors again for the rechristened 2003 Broadwater Resorts Half Ironman. The course at Busselton is promoted as ‘flat and fast’ but these attributes also translate to mean ‘unrelenting’ as athletes are not given the opportunity to give tired muscles a rest at any point on the course. This year, while the wind was light, it was still there. A change of the bike course from 3 laps to 4 meant that athletes would tackle a slight headwind on each outward journey but have the luxury of coming home with some help.
Early race week predictions favoured the Energy2Go duo of Stefan Kolm and Angela Milne to secure back to back victories, despite both having competed in Ironman Australia a month before. When Milne decided to bypass the start line due to illness, the race for the Female WA State Long Course Title was thrown wide open. No such luck for the men – Kolm was smarting from what he described as a “disappointing race” in Forster and he was eager to make amends.
Filling out the men’s field were many talented athletes eager to pounce should Kolm find a bit of Ironman still hanging around in his legs. The heir most apparent seemed to be 21 year old Steven Bishop who kicked his Ironman career off to an impressive start with a 9.16 win of his age group in New Zealand. Andrew Robertson also posed a threat with a reputation as a strong swim/biker while past winners Richie Baron-hay and Andy Peterson, while keeping a low profile all season, were expected to challenge. Having sewn up WA Male Triathlete of the Year, Sean O’Neill was also keen to end his season on a high.
For the women, the strong running of Kelly Mouttet and Joanne Scheer looked most likely to benefit from the absence of Milne. Mouttet would start as favourite purely because of her experience in the longer events – for Scheer and youngster Ebony Malone, this would be their first test over the Half Ironman. Malone, more than proficient over the first two disciplines, had never run 21km before race day! Also in the field would be Robyn Scott, an accomplished long course racer whose swim and bike would definitely place her high up come T2. Nathalie Laurendeau, an exceptional cyclist rounded out the women’s open field.
The swim starts parallel to the famous Busselton Jetty and spectators were treated to the sight of 400 athletes hitting the water as one. Conditions were slightly choppy and there was a small undertow heading along the jetty, but despite this, both swim leaders for the men and women set course records!! Bishop broke his own record to exit in 25.46 while former national water polo rep, Kylie English, hit dry ground in 28.15. Looming ominously behind Bishop was Kolm with Robertson and Baron-hay another 20 seconds astray. The rest of the men’s field had some work to do as they left the water no closer than a minute behind the leaders. Meanwhile, for the women, Malone was a scant 15 seconds behind English with Claire Goldsmith recording the same time. Scott was next with favourites Mouttet and Scheer 4 and 5 minutes down respectively.
On to the bike and some HUGE moves were made. Kolm went to work outsplitting all comers, including the best of the team cyclists. His 2.16.46 split smashed Mitch Anderson’s existing bike record of 2.19.14 and saw him hit T2 3.43 ahead of his nearest rival Bishop. Knowing that her run would be found wanting come the business end of the day, Malone quickly passed English to assume the lead and from there on proceeded to smash the bike to pieces. In her first Half Ironman, there was no holding back and being conservative, she was going for the win and this was the only way she knew to achieve that goal. While all the women looked on in disbelief, Mouttet was the most distressed saying later “I expected Eb to be maybe 5 minutes ahead of me off the bike, but I was prepared for a worst case scenario of 10 minutes. I could not believe the huge chunks of time she was putting into me out there”. Those huge chunks saw Malone enter T2 with an incredible 8 minutes over nearest rival, Laurendeau while Mouttet was 12 minutes astray back in fourth place behind English who had held her own in the bike. Scott was next to leave transition a minute ahead of Kate Bevilaqua while Scheer entered T2 in 7th place nearly 20 minutes behind the leader.
For the men it was much closer with the four leading men leaving T2 within 4 minutes of each other. Bishop held his position on the bike sharing the second fastest bike split with Robertson and these two left T2 in 2nd and 3rd respectively. Baron-hay was another minute back in 4th while O’Neill was in 5th but nearly 9 minutes behind the leader. The big mover on the bike was Andy Foggin who moved from 27th out of the swim to 6th into T2 but from here, little would change in the top 6 placings.
It was a lonely time on the run for the men’s top five as Kolm simply held on to his lead and cruised home for a 6 minute victory and his second State Long Course Title in a row. Bishop sounded a warning to his more experienced competitors as he too held on to his place crossing second with just over a minute to Baron-hay who had a fabulous run to overtake Robertson for a WA trifecta. Robertson must have felt under siege because O’Neill also managed to bridge the 4 minute gap that separated them resulting in a sprint finish which saw Robertson prevail. O’Neill had to be happy with his race however which saw an improvement on his 2002 time by nearly 50 minutes to cap off an amazing season!
If the men’s run was slightly pedestrian, the women’s was anything but. Malone took out the first lap hard to consolidate her lead and a hard chasing Mouttet, while moving into second by lap end had only pulled back two of the twelve minutes separating them. Laurendeau was hanging tough but under pressure from Scott while Scheer was making up time, but little impression on the leader board. Those who know long course racing, know that it is the second half of the run that moves are made and Mouttet went to work in lap two slicing 6 minutes off the time between her and victory. Malone was tiring quickly and not even the urging of the crowd could prolong the inevitable as, almost anti climatically, Mouttet hit the front with 3.5 of the longest kilometres of her life left to go. The 25 year old recorded a 1.38.45 run split which helped her to her first state long course title and the delight was evident on her face as she crossed to high fives and applause from an appreciative crowd. The cheers were no less loud for a very tired Malone whose gutsy effort saw her stop the clock only a minute ahead of the amazing Scheer who ran herself from well back in the field to a podium position. Ever reliable, Scott took fourth from Laurendeau whose solid run kept the chasers at bay.