In his first attempt at the Challenge Wanaka half Ironman, 23-year-old Kyle Smith eked out a narrow win over defending champion Braden Currie, and 29-year-old Hannah Wells defended her title in dominating fashion on a demanding new course at Glendhu Bay.
Smith carved out a 4:27 lead after the swim and bike legs, then held off Currie’s race-best 1:14:56 half marathon by 13 seconds for the win in a race-record 3:50:15 mark.
This was the third straight time that Smith and Currie have battled head to head in Kiwi summer races. Smith beat Currie by 3 minutes 40 seconds at the Rotorua Suffer and then bested Currie by 10 seconds at Mount Maunganui.
"Yeah I rode too hard," quipped Smith to Challenge media. "I jumped on the bike and my power meter wasn’t paired. So I thought oh well, that is basically a doctor’s prescription for a two-hour life expectancy. I just rode by feel and it is super hard as I felt good. So when you push way too hard I thought I had to simmer down and wait for the run, knowing how hard it was going to be.”
Smith paid tribute to Currie’s superb run. "I knew Braden would be coming home strong so I knew I had run as hard as I could down the hill and ignore the pain from my feet and stomp it. I only just held on - look at the class of the man [pointing at Braden]. He’s just an animal." Currie, a 34-year-old established star, paid homage to Smith, whom he calls “the new kid on the block.”
"My legs were pretty slammed the first 40 - 50 kilometers of the ride and then I started finding some rhythm on the run,” Currie told Challenge media. “I guess I feel good on undulating runs like that. I have been doing a lot of running lately and feel I'm on good run form. I didn’t really fade, just felt better and better all the way through the run. I guess it was just a touch too much lead. I think there was 3 k to go and I knew I had to go 15 seconds faster than Kyle and it was all downhill. I thought however much he blows up, it is still hard to run that much faster. I gave it everything and tried to make it as exciting as I could."
Jack Moody, a former New Zealand steeplechase champion and Queenstown marathon winner, grabbed third place, 4:40 behind the winner.
Wells stuck close to super swimmer Rebecca Clarke and finished the 1.9 kilometer course two seconds behind Clarke’s women’s-best 25:30 mark. Wells overtook Clarke with a transition that was 4 seconds better, then never looked back. Wells expanded her lead to 4:30 with a race-best 2:23:31 bike split, then turned on the jets with a women’s-best 1:32:12 run that brought her to the finish in 4:24:31 with a 9:48 margin of victory over Clarke and 13:56 over third place finisher Maeve Kennedy-Birdsall.
Wells celebrated her second straight Wanaka Half win. "I was really happy with my swim and to stick with Becs [Rebecca Clarke] was great as she is a great swimmer,” Wells told Challenge media. “I wanted to ride the bike pretty hard and remain conservative on the run. That was my plan and it seemed to work.” said Wells.
"My initial plan was to solo the swim but Hannah has no weakness now and is swimming with me, so I decided to ride my own ride and try and keep a time gap to her not too much and put time onto third and fourth place," said Clarke.
Wells took the lead on the 5-lap bike course and consolidated that into over 4 minutes at T2. Wells then ran away on the testing run. "I don’t think anyone will like the first 25 minutes of the run,” she said. “The climb is pretty gnarly but the down afterwards is flowy and fun.”
Making a transition from a winning record at XTERRA races to pavement racing, Maeve Kennedy-Birdsall recently moved to Wanaka and obtained her New Zealand pro license. Kennedy-Birdsall finished third, 4:08 behind Clarke.
Integrity Homes Challenge Wanaka Half
February 20, 2021
Wanaka, Otago, New Zealand
S 1.2 mi. / B 56 mi. / R 13.1 mi.
1. Kyle Smith (NZL) S 23:00 T1 1:39 B 2:05:08 T2 1:10 R 1:19:16 TOT 3:50:15
2. Braden Currie (NZL) S 23:47 T1 1:53 B 2:08:52 T2 00:58 R 1:14:56 TOT 3:50:28
3. Jack Moody (NZL) S 26:16 T1 2:32 B 2:09:18 T2 1:02 R 1:15:46 TOT 3:54:55
4. Matt Kerr (NZL) S 26:02 T1 2:48 B 2:14:55 T2 1:30 R 1:26:00 TOT 4:117
5. Jared Millar (NZL) S 29:04 T1 2:12 B 2:14:23 T2 1:11 R 1:29:40 TOT 4:16:32
1. Hannah Wells (NZL) S 25:32 T1 2:08 B 2:23:31 T2 1:06 R 1:32:12 TOT 4:24:31
2. Rebecca Clarke (NZL) S 25:30 T1 2:12 B 2:27:59 T2 1:08 R 1:37:28 TOT 4:34:19
3. Maeve Kennedy-Birdsall S 27:50 T1 2:39 B 2:32:02 T2 1:18 R 1:34:36 TOT 4:38:27
4. Emily McNaughtan (NZL) S 31:06 T1 3:00 B 2:39:14 T2 1:20 R 1:38:45 TOT 4:53:27