A four-strong Team Abu Dhabi will contest one of the toughest endurance challenges in the world today, the Ironman Hawaii World Championship. Faris al Sultan, Swen Sundberg, Andrea Brede and new, one-off team member, Troy Watson, are taking on the most hardened ironmen and women in the world, but they are not racing on Hawaii's punishing lava fields to make up the numbers.
Team manager Werner Leitner said his athletes are aiming for top-10 finishes after a successful training camp in California. The four undertake the 3.86km open water swim, 180km cycle ride and a marathon run of Kona's harsh, windswept terrain today, on what is regarded as the most testing ironman event in the world. "The challenge of Kona is of course against the other athletes and yourself, but you also take on the terrain and the weather," said Leitner.
"The weather is very changeable and the wind direction can fluctuate. It's not unusual to battle to the turnaround point against the wind, only to find you are again battling in a head wind as you head for home." Leitner said the climate on Hawaii was very humid and temperatures, reflected by the hardened lava, can hit the high 40C. "Right now it's holding at 30C and that's fine for our guys who train during the winter in Abu Dhabi and were in that kind of heat in California," he said.
Al Sultan, 31, Team Abu Dhabi captain and 2005 world champion, is an old hand when it comes to Kona having competed every year but two since 1999. "All of the athletes have competed here before with the exception of Troy," said Leitner. "So they know what they are doing and what they are taking on." For al Sultan, 6.45am marks the start of a battle against his own body as much as any other rival. "Faris has had problems with his back," said Leitner. "He has struggled with it this year and has been having lots of treatment. He seems well and strong and will really push himself."
Leitner said while Hawaii is the sport's pinnacle, taking part in the event represented a risk to the athletes. "It's tough even to qualify and once you are there its like nothing you have seen before," he said. "It's always a risk when you push yourself so hard, but athletes take the risk to get the results." Sundberg, 35, qualified for Hawaii with just six weeks to spare, but has not been wasting time since. "It's recommended you have a break after an ironman, but Swen didn't have the time," said Leitner. "He recovered for a week only and then came to our training camp and has been putting in the hours. "
Andrea Brede is hoping to finish inside the top 10 and has been working hard on her running, while Watson, 27, is hoping his 11-hour-a-week training schedule stands him in good stead. @Email:email@example.com