When the gun went off at 7am on January 2 1990, more than 230 individuals and 80 team swimmers plunged into the tide and headed into a maze of boats clustered in the mist.
Now, in its 30th year, the Tauranga Half has developed into an iconic event in the triathlon and Bay of Plenty community, with crowds lining the café filled streets of Mount Maunganui to cheer on the athletes.
This Saturday the Tauranga Half will being celebrating 30 years alongside more than 1500 athletes, including many of the country’s elite long distance triathletes.
“The festival is an event which the public can watch or participate in at one of New Zealand’s most popular summer destinations,” says general manager Lauren Watson.
“We are looking forward to celebrating the 30th anniversary of Tauranga Half this Saturday.
“The iconic event has been a part of the Mount Maunganui summer since 1990, making it one New Zealand’s longest running and most iconic triathlons.”
The roll call of winners from the Tauranga’s Half 30 year history reads like a “who’s who” of the sport in New Zealand with past champions including Cameron Brown, Braden Currie, Jo Lawn and Samantha Bradley (nee Warriner).
There have also been several international athletes’ record Tauranga Half victories including Australian’s Craig Alexander, Melissa Hauschildt & Kate Bevilaqua.
Many former winners are returning for this year’s 30th Anniversary including women’s winner Karen Williams, 1991 men’s winner Dave Bradding and three-time men’s winner (1992, 1994 and 1997) Tony O’Hagan.
This year’s elite men’s race has assembled Ne Zealand’s top long distance athletes, with defending champ Dylan McNeice, and two former runner-ups Mike Phillips and Mark Bowstead being the leading contenders.
McNeice and Phillips had a close fought battle last year, before McNeice made break on the second run late to record his first Tauranga Half victory. McNeice had a good year in 2018 which included victory in Challenge Taiwan, 3rd in Challenge Venice and a 2nd at Challenge Geraadsbergen, Belgium.
Mike Phillips was second behind Dylan McNeice in last year’s event, before a stellar season in 2018 which included a 5th in the NZ Ironman champs, 16th at the World Ironman Champs, and victory in the Taupo 70.3 in December.
Mark Bowstead has twice finished second in the Tauranga Half. After ITB issues ruled him out of most of the 2017 season, Bowstead was back competing strongly in 2018, with a 3rd placing in Ironman Australia, which included the fastest swim & bike legs.
Other contenders for the men’s title are well-performed NZ long distance triathletes Simon Cochrane and Jack Moody.
The Tauranga Half women’s event has attracted New Zealand’s top female long distance triathletes including last year’s runner-up Teresa Adam, two-time champion Amelia Watkinson, and rising stars Rebecca Cark and Hannah Wells.
Teresa Adam was third here in 2017, and then second last year to leading Australian long-distance triathlete – Melissa Hauschildt.
She went on to an incredible 2018 which included a 2nd placing at Ironman New Zealand, followed by victory in the Ironman Cairns Asian Pacific Champs in a new course record of 8:53:16. She rounded out her break-through year with an 18th in her first attempt at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
Returning to the Tauranga Half start line for the fifth time is Amelia Rose Watkinson. Her previous four attempts were a second placing in 2014, victories in 2016 and 2017, and a third placing in 2018. This year’s she returns after an injury plagued 2018, where a long recovery from a stress fracture to her foot saw her miss most of the racing season.
The Tauranga Half is the headline event for the Mount Festival of Multisport which includes a range of athletic and community events in Mount Maunganui from January 11-13. The Mount Festival of Multisport is centred around a festival village in Pilot Bay.
“In 2015 a selection of events were added to Tauranga Half to create a festival that appealed to a wider range of people with varied athletic abilities. These events now sit under the umbrella of the Mount Festival of Multisport.”
“This year’s Mount Festival includes the hallmark Tauranga Half, the Enduro long distance triathlon, the Hopt Soda Aquabike, Mount Run, Athletes expo, and other iconic summer events such as the Mt Maunganui Beach Volleyball Open.”
The annual Tauranga Half will be held on Saturday, January 12 at 6.30am on Mount Maunganui’s picturesque Pilot Bay.