CONDITIONS conspired against Carla van Bommel in yesterday's Harbour to Surf ocean swim, while a bit of cunning helped Blair Jordan win a dramatic sprint to the line.
Jordan, the Mount Maunganui-based World Cup triathlete, was just behind 16-year-old Mount College student Owen Miller at the end, but popped up onto the sand earlier and let his long legs carry him across the line first in 48m 6s.
It's a trick he learned the hard way during his tough first season on the ITU circuit in Europe last year, when he missed a couple of main-bike bunches because of tardy transitions.
Just behind the leading pair was Bay of Plenty swimmer van Bommel, who could have seriously challenged the two multisporters had the original course been raced. The same biting sou'easter wind which forced the postponement of Saturday's Bridge to Bridge swim also played havoc yesterday, with organisers forced to abandon the planned route around Mauao and change the 24-year-old annual race to a revised 3.6km course in Pilot Bay, looping up and across the beach between laps.
"They got me on the runs and I spent the rest of the course catching up - running's definitely not my strong point and that's why I became a swimmer," said Van Bommel, who was just 10s behind Miller and Jordan in 48m 17s.
Catching up is exactly what Jordan's been doing - the 26-year-old came away from Europe last year knowing he had to improve his swimming drastically to compete.
Fortune paid him an unexpected visit in the form of a sore knee, after pushing his running training too hard on his return.
"It's probably been a blessing in disguise because my swimming was what let me down over the year and it has really been coming up," Jordan said.
"All the World Cups and ITU races have drafting and if you don't make the bunch, you're gone-burger. In most of the races I was coming out of the water at the back of the pack, but just struggling to be there.
"It made it really tough and I had to bring my swimming up."
If yesterday's win was the proof of Jordan's improvement, it also showcased the potential of his young rival Miller, who is trained by ironman Stephen Sheldrake and Tauranga swim coach Sheryl McLay. Miller won the sprint distance component of the Tinman triathlon last month and is eagerly eyeing up the national sprint championships in Kinloch in a fortnight, despite being pipped on the line yesterday.
"I was with him the whole way on his hip but just stumbled a bit," Miller said. "I've been training hard this week - we had a big session yesterday with a time trial on the bike a hard run and an ocean swim in Pilot Bay so I'm feeling it a little bit, but I should be pretty ready for Kinloch."
Other notable finishers in yesterday's swim included former Steamers captain, lock Mark Weedon, former event supremo Iris Thomas (1h 6m 59s) and Tauranga swim coach Rob de Villiers, who nudged under the hour mark in 59m 24s.
Meanwhile, organiser Andy Bedford hopes to postpone the Bridge to Bridge - which van Bommel has won for the last two years - to early February.