Twenty-five years ago, triathlon in South Africa was a small, grassroots sport. The event calendar was dominated by “Standards” and “Half Standards,” the former being what is known today as Olympic Distance.
Organised by provincial committees on a voluntary basis, the sport in the Western Province was effectively bankrolled by a single sponsor named Nic van den Bergh, whose Longmile company titled most events. One such race is captured vividly here at the seaside resort town of Gordon’s Bay, host to dozens of events during the eighties and early nineties.
A mass swim start with the Helderberg Mountains as a backdrop. Event dates in Gordon’s Bay were dependent on the high tide to ensure a full 1500m swimming leg. Anything less saw rock hopping and duck diving predominate.
Drafting was not allowed in any events, which favoured strong cyclists like Trevor “The Beast” Seinen. Pictured here on his 62cm Tommasini steel frame, the then Maties student pedalled his way into podium contention on the flat 40km bike leg.
Springbok cyclist, duathlete and triathlete Hennie Wentzel making up ground with his “usual fire in the eyes” look. The ultimate competitor, “Wiele” was known for pushing an enormous gear at a cadence of no more than 60rpm. Look closely at his shoes – the are fixed to a patented clipless pedal by a homemade lock-and-release lever; a sort of toe-clip-meets-clipless-pedal hybrid underlining his “old school” cycling background.
The consistent Sean Ingram, sponsored by an Atlantic Seaboard pub-and-grill called Seagulls sporting cutoff drop handlebars, keeping in line with the tri-fashion of the time.
The duel for first place: soon to be chiropractic student Chad Gordon pulling away from Dr. Paddy Murphy on the homeward stretch of the 10km run. Now resident in Windhoek, Namibia, the well-travelled Murphy was working in the Tygerberg Hospital Trauma Unit at the time, often arriving at races directly from night shifts.
The race that put Hannele Steyn on the map: the Upington-born Steyn underlined her class with a world-class cycling and running performance, winning the race by over 1km. This signalled the start of a professional triathlon career for the diminutive and multi-talented athlete, now resident in Knysna and producing her own line of organic muesli.
Prize givings were a relaxed affair, almost like a beach party but in a car park.
Gary van Rooyen winning the annual floating trophy for the Peninsula Ironman. An obscure competition of yesteryear, this prize was awarded to the individual with the fastest combined time in the two mile Glencairn-to-Simon’s Town swim, Peninsula Marathon and Argus Cycle Tour. Notable former winners include Van Rooyen’s fellow waterman, the late Keith Anderson.
As already mentioned, triathlon back then was organised and governed by provincial committees made of of volunteers. One such administrator was the legendary Coenie “Doc” Van Eyssen, effectively the father of the sport in the Western Cape. In keeping with the provincial culture of the time, Van Eyssen is pictured here awarding the prized Western Province blazer to Hannele Steyn.
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