SAR ready to make splash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 February, 2000, 12:00am

A dip in the cold water off Repulse Bay is nothing compared to what lies in store in Taupo, New Zealand, this week.

Temperatures on the south side of Hong Kong Island plunged to 13 degrees but the water was a lot more chilly for three brave souls who decided to have one last swim before this week's big race - the New Zealand Ironman.

Ian Brownlee, Bernard Poon and Tim Dowden took the plunge knowing - no, dreading - what to expect on Saturday when they will be part of a 24-strong Hong Kong team taking part in perhaps the most gruelling one-day event in sport.

The trio come from a wide range of backgrounds and each has fascinating stories to tell about their sporting experiences - both good and bad.

And they will have another one for their collection after energy-sapping, truly exhausting and physically challenging 3.8-km swim, 180-km bike ride and 42-km marathon in Taupo in the centre of North Island.

Dowden, half-jokingly, says he doesn't want his boss to know he is competing in another triathlon.

Not after what happened to him last year when he competed in a Half Ironman race in the Philippines.

Dowden collapsed at the finish and was detained in hospital for four days. He has trained even more intensively since and wants a crack at the Ironman. Such commitment - but don't tell his boss.

Poon was the first Hong Kong Chinese to complete an Ironman race in Australia last year and is trying to better his time.

Brownlee, 50, will form a father-son combination with Jarrad, 21, making up the oldest and youngest members on the Hong Kong team of 21 men and three women.

'It's a fun event. You have all kinds of people serving you. In my last race, there were 1,000 competitors, but about 5,000 volunteers were helping you out. They were passing you food and drinks and some even came out of their homes to offer you beer,' said Richard Lo, one of the more experienced members of the squad who last year competed in a Strongman - a less gruelling event - in Japan.

Ian Brownlee added: 'It's pretty hard work. I did it last year in Australia but I got into trouble when I was throwing up. I just sat down for 30 minutes and rested. I then completed the race. Competing is the fun part, it's the training that's tough.' Jarrad has done one Ironkid - but that was some 10 years ago. 'It's a big step up from Ironkid to Ironman,' he laughed. 'But I'm going to do it, having watched it last year. I don't think it will be that bad. My swim is okay, and I should get going after a while on my bike.' 'I expect the top triathletes to finish in around eight hours. I hope to finish within 13 hours. There's a cut-off time of 17 hours,' said Brownlee.

Four of the squad - Ming T. Liu, Haston Liu, Wiktor Tutlewski and Bob Neville - 'warmed up' for New Zealand Ironman by competing in last weekend's Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon.

Then there are first-timers Richard Cook, Bob Neville, Michael Bonisch, Roland Riedel and Jueng Niederberger.

They will be able to gain experience from Tutlewski who has competed in the most races of the whole team - five.

Hong Kong's top female triathlete, Nicole Budd, will be out to prove her worth. Now a professional, she won her age group at the Australian Ironman at her first attempt last year and will be looking for another fine outing this time.

Ian Rayson, a former Asian champion, will also be competing in New Zealand and is expected to do well.

A few weeks after the New Zealand Ironman, Budd and Rayson will be off to Hawaii, where the Ironman originated.

But this time, they won't hear the starter's gun, only wedding bells. They're getting married.