Graham O'Grady and Gina Crawford raced home winners at the Port of Tauranga Half at Mt Maunganui today.
O'Grady announced himself as a world class athlete over the half distance in equalling the race record while defeating former world champion Terenzo Bozzone and 9 times winner Cameron Brown.
Conditions were near perfect at the hot holiday spot, but for the winds which troubled athletes on the swim and bike legs, in a race played out in front of a huge crowd and sun soaking holiday makers.
It was the 24th running of the event, one that doubles as the Tri NZ National Long Distance Championships.
O'Grady led out of the water after an impressive swim, clocking 22 minutes and 35 seconds for the 1.9km in Pilot Bay.
Chasing hard were Callum Millward and Terenzo Bozzone some 46 seconds back, with Cameron Brown in the third group, 2:34 mins behind O'Grady.
Positions stayed largely the same on the 90km bike leg, with O'Grady extending his lead on the chasers to head out on to the run with a handy but not insurmountable lead of one minute and 14 seconds over a chasing trio of James Bowstead (the big mover on the bike with a fastest 2:06:38 split), Callum Millward and Bozzone - with Bozzone losing vital seconds when having to retreat 12 metres to pick up a stray bike shoe.
By the halfway point it was down to two with Bozzone and O'Grady running side by side but O'Grady made his move on the second lap around the base of The Mount to break the former 70.3 world champion and head to the finish and a share of the race record of 3:47:54 set by Nathan Richmond in 2006.
"I had a great swim and rode strongly and looked to make a move at about the 30km to go mark knowing that sometimes a chase group can back off a little thinking of each other and the run and that is the way it played out," O'Grady explained post-race.
"It is always nice to have a buffer and settle into your own rhythm, I knew that Terenzo and Callum would be coming at me fast and sure enough Terenzo ran really well over that first 5km.
"I was a bit hesitant to go with him but my coach Keegan (Williams) gave me an earful when I went past him heading into the mountain so I worked hard, stuck there and believed in myself."
The win is all the sweeter for 30 year old O'Grady, after he had his title stripped two years ago for a failed drugs test and then injury ruled him out last year.
"I think this is a great win, a perfect race for me.
"I have had great races every now and then and known the potential is there but this result is pretty special and will give me confidence, especially against such a class field with Terenzo and Cameron, they are the best in the world.
"Hopefully I can keep this roll going through the year and race well at the world championships."
In the women's race it was as expected a close battle out of the water between Jo Lawn and Gina Crawford, the two exiting almost side by side from Pilot Bay with Crawford clocking 26:33 mins, seven seconds ahead of four time champion Lawn.
But that was the last time Crawford was challenged as the 32 year old simply rode and then ran away from the field with Lawn left in a battle with Candice Hammond for the minor placings.
Hammond won that battle thanks largely to an impressive 1:22:11 run split, the quickest of the elite women.
Crawford was imperious as she clocked up a great day's work in preparation for Challenge Wanaka in two weeks time, crossing the line looking like she could well have been on a training exercise.
"I didn't feel tired, I felt really good which is a good sign I think. I tried to go up another gear but my strength is the ironman pace and the fact I can hold that pace.
"For years I have done under nine hours in the ironman but struggled to go under four and a half hours in the half which is really weird but lately I have started to enjoy the shorter distance a little more.
Port of Tauranga Half
1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21km run
1 Graham O'Grady Kinloch 3:47:54 equals race record
2 Terenzo Bozzone Auckland 3:48:45
3 Cameron Brown Auckland 3:53:01
4 James Bowstead Auckland 3:58:26
5 Rob Creasy New Plymouth 4:01:37
1 Gina Crawford Christchurch 4:15:10
2 Candice Hammond Cambridge 4:18:08
3 Jo Lawn Auckland 4:21:05
4 Hilary Wicks Auckland 4:31:04
5 Amelia Rose Watkinson Auckland 4:32:06