Cape Town — It was an inauspicious start for Team South Africa on day one of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as their first medal hope, Henri Schoeman, withdrew from the action.
Schoeman was the defending champion in the men’s individual triathlon, and despite a difficult build-up, his fighting spirit would have made him a contender for a podium spot, if not a gold medal necessarily.
But the 30-year-old — who took the honours at the 2018 event in Gold Coast, Australia, pulled out before the start at Sutton Park with an injury.
A Team SA spokesperson told IOL Sport that Schoeman’s “shins have flared up”, and it was decided to rest him for the triathlon mixed team relay race on Sunday rather, where a medal might be a more realistic goal.
But despite Schoeman’s absence, SA teammates Jamie Riddle and Dylan Nortje set off for the 1.5km swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run, and it was Riddle who made his presence felt from the outset.
The 22-year-old, who hails from Gqeberha, but is based in Stellenbosch, was second behind New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde after the swim leg in eight minutes and 36 seconds (8:36).
Riddle went into the lead a few times during the 40km cycling leg as he fought it out with Wilde, but things changed once they began the 10km run.
England’s Alex Yee, the individual triathlon Olympic silver medallist and mixed relay gold medallist in Tokyo last year, surged to the front on the final lap as he caught Wilde with about three minutes to go, while the New Zealander also received a 10-second penalty for failing to put his bike helmet back correctly before moving onto the running leg.
The 24-year-old Yee was even congratulated by Olympic bronze medallist Wilde close to the finish line once the latter was informed about his penalty, which saw him even stop at one stage as Yee crossed the line in 50:34.
Wilde hung on for the silver medal in 50:47, with Australian Matthew Hauser grabbed the bronze in 50:50.
Unfortunately for Riddle, he had to settle for sixth position in 51:32, while Nortje finished 21st in 54:12.
“I’m feeling very proud and honoured. The Commonwealth (Games) has such a big meaning behind it, and I really felt that today. I represented my country, and I’m very proud,” Riddle said afterwards.
“(The mixed team relay on Sunday) is about racing for your country even more so, as you really get together as a team and you try and use that South African gees to come out on the day and bring your level up completely. I hope that I got the guys going.”