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Challenge Wanaka Pre-Race Update

Challenge Wanaka Pre-Race Update

The countdown to the second Challenge Wanaka is well underway with registration open and over 60 athletes testing the Lake Wanaka water on the “Swim the Course” on Wednesday morning. There was universal acclaim for the crystal clear water and surrounding scenery. One athlete even went so far as to say that down the final length he was more engrossed in the scenery than the course!

Yesterday evening saw over 300 lcoals pack into the Lake Wanaka Centre for the Volunteers’ briefing. From eight to 80, these generous individuals are the heart and soul of the event, giving up their free time to make the race possible.

A relaxed media briefing with the professional athletes saw friendly rivalry between one of the sport’s best swimmers, Hillary Biscay (USA) and Luke Dragstra (CAN), last year’s winner. At the inaugural Challenge Wanaka, Biscay was out of the water just a few seconds ahead of Dragstra but has spent the last few weeks unable to swim due to surgery on her elbow. In the meantime, Dragstra has been working hard at his swim so we’ll be watching the outcome with interest on race day morning.

The men’s event is shaping up to be a close run race with Dragstra and Chris McDonald (AUS) spending much time training together during the last year. In the five races they have competed in together, they have finished within 60 seconds of each other in all of them.

Another contender is Justin Granger who came in second last year. “I’m in pretty good shape having managed to stay away from the grog monster at Christmas!” he said. “I was left empty with second last year so that motivation’s been with me for the last 12 months and I’m looking forward to Saturday.”

Two New Zealand pro athletes taking part are Keegan Williams from Hamilton and Gina Ferguson from Christchurch. This is Williams’ first professional race and although by his own admission he’s “still pretty green”, he was keen to “hold the New Zealand flag high”. With a half ironman victory and full ironman fastest age grouper title already under his belt, he’ll be doing that with ease.

Ferguson remains well-grounded despite her recent record-breaking success in Wisconsin and a second in Western Australia. “I go into a race with my own focus. I don’t take any notice of where anyone else is, I just go as hard as I can. I’m just treating this as I would any other race and am looking forward to travelling to Challenge Roth and Hawaii later in the year.”

Professional German athletes Susanne Buckenlei said it was one of her big dreams to be here in New Zealand, despite losing her wheels to Uganda courtesy of the airline! “It’s one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to many places but never seen anything like this; it has everything – mountains, lakes. It’s the perfect holiday combining a race with visiting this beautiful country.”

The course was described by Justin Granger as “very honest – just you against the elements and nature. The way the New Zealand weather can turn, especially in an alpine region is a major factor. The run is 50% on trail which is a new concept for ironman distance as most are on tarmac. This creates more difficulty and takes a lot out of you.”

Chris McDonald also agreed the course was challenging with heavy road chip and strong winds but said that suited him fine.

The nature of the course and the field numbers means that the lead athletes spend large amounts of time during the day by themselves. Granger said this was when the race came own to the mental factor. “You need a lot of motivation and positive thoughts. We’re all very fit but of course there are highs and lows throughout the day. You prepare to the best of your ability but there are different mental factors that come in through the day – life would be boring if you didn’t challenge yourself – sure, we probably challenge ourselves more than others but it becomes an addiction and you keep wanting more!”

Challenge Wanaka will take place on January 19, 2008 starting at 7.00am and is part of the global TEAMChallenge series that includes events in Germany, France and Spain. For further information, visit


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