Girl power rules
For the second year in a row but just the third time in 97 years, a woman has won the Flannagan Cup open water swim.
New Plymouth's Alice Doig followed the lead of last year's winner Dee Nagle when taking line honours in the gruelling 3.6km handicap swim.
Swimming Taranaki operations manager and event co-ordinator Julie Owen believes only three women have won the cup in its long history.
Choppy seas and a stiff south- easterly wind blowing off New Plymouth's Ngamotu Beach tested competitors.
Doig, 29, made the most of her scratch handicap and reached the finish line first in one hour, six minutes, 33 seconds - 15min ahead of the next swimmer, John Kahu, of Manaia, who also started off the front mark. Third was Idelle Hiestand (1hr 27min 43.89sec) starting 31min behind.
The fastest time of 40min 41sec was recorded by Jay Cadman- Kennedy, of New Plymouth, who started off the biggest handicap of 48min.
"Pretty enjoyable," was how an out-of-breath Doig described the previous 66 minutes.
It was only the second time Doig had competed in the Flannagan Cup - in her first attempt last year she finished in a tick over 1hr 11min.
"So I'm five minutes quicker than last year," she said. "I'm just happy to have completed it again," adding winning was a bonus.
Doig is not a registered member of any swimming or lifesaving club. She said she swam for enjoyment and recreation.
"I started learning young and I've always loved it," the Tui Ora health and social services worker said.
Doig said she had no real problems handling the windy conditions and choppy seas.
Chasing the winner home, Kahu was "buggered" as he staggered up the beach.
The 58-year-old won the masters category last year when coming off a long break from swimming.
"I had a 40-year break and I'm just training up for the Ironman at Taupo in three weeks time," the Hawera freezing worker said.
"That's the big goal. It's been the goal for about the last five years, so hopefully I get there this year."
Kahu said a weekly trip to take part in the open water training sessions run this year by swim coach Craig Dent had paid off.
Kahu said he found ocean swimming quite a bit different to swimming in the pool where he does a lot of his training.
"In the pool you can see the lines and see where you're going. Out here it's a struggle to stay on course.
"In a warped sense, in a way I enjoyed it."
Cadman-Kennedy admitted he never gave himself much of a chance of pulling in the front swimmers.
"I knew realistically I wasn't going to catch the front, but hopefully I did a lot better time than last year.
"I've always fallen short of having fastest time so hopefully this year was good enough."
As it turned out, it was.
The fastest woman was New Plymouth's Charlotte Webby, who continued her good form from New Zealand's ocean swim series, including a last-round win in Wellington late last month. She recorded an impressive 41min 24.64sec. She started off a 47min 30sec handicap.
"It was a good swim and a good hitout. It's a bit hard to get up in swims like that when you're starting so far behind the frontrunner," Webby said, adding the choppy sea made it a bit difficult to pick up the course markers.
The ocean series moves next to Christchurch and, overall, has a $20,000 winner-takes-all prize.
"So I've just got to go down and try and beat the Aussie girl. If I can take her 100 points away and go into the last race, which is worth double points, I should be in with a chance," Webby said.
"If you get second in the series you get two grand, so it's a bit of a drop."
International triathlete Clark Ellice, starting off 46min 30sec, had the third-fastest time of 42min 47.78sec, showing he is in good swimming form ahead of his triathlon programme.
New Plymouth's Keith Allum, 73, the veteran of the field, crossed the line in 1hr 32min 49.16sec.
Results: Page 22
Taranaki Daily News