GALLERY: Splash and dash at Australia Day Aquathon

First-time Jacob Birtwhistle and 2013 women’s champion Gwen Jorgensen took honours in Wollongong’s Australia Day Aquathon on Sunday.

Birtwhistle was first across the line in front of a healthy crowd at Belmore Basin, using a strong run leg to oust his rivals in  36 minutes 28 seconds. 

London Olympian Brendan Sexton (36:43) fought hard to finish second and Ryan Bailie (36:55)  was third.

Australia’s leading triathlete and event ambassador Aaron Royle was a notable late withdrawal from the field, opting not to risk competing  because of  a minor calf complaint.

In his absence, Birtwhistle, Sexton, Bailie and Michael Murphy took control of the race after  the swim before Birtwhistle used his experience as an 11-time Australian junior track champion to kick away. 

‘‘Just going through that slight uphill, me and Brendan Sexton kind of made a bit of a surge there and  [got] away from the other two, Murphy and Ryan Baillie,’’ Birtwhistle said. 

‘‘And then coming back along the grass just where you get across the bike path is where I got the lead and could just surge away from Brendan.

Jacob Birtwhistle heads home in the Australia Day Aquathon.

‘‘The run is my strongest leg, so it was good to get away there.’’

It was Birtwhistle’s first appearance in the event, but the 19-year-old is likely to become a regular competitor after moving to the region.

‘‘It is good to get here and get a bit of a feel for the place and obviously it’s a good, fun day here, it is a pretty big event for the community as well,’’ Birtwhistle said.

‘‘It always gets a pretty good class field so it is a really good season opener for me and hopefully now I can move on to some other good performances throughout the year.’’

In the women’s race, Jorgensen stamped her name in the history books.

American Olympian Gwen Jorgensen with Barbara Riveros, of Chile.

The American Olympian looked ready for round two when she cruised over the line, coasting to another title in exactly 40 minutes.

Her rivals couldn’t bridge the gap after the swim, and  Chile’s Barbara Riveros (40:24) and Canadian Ellen Pennock (40:47)  joined her on  the podium. 

‘‘I am really happy,’’ Jorgensen said. ‘‘Our head Wizard Jamie Turner really prepared us well and it is an early season race, so it is good to see where our fitness is.

‘‘I’m just trying to focus on the processes. I think all of us were just out there focusing on technique and trying to execute when we are tired.

‘‘We had a good month in Falls Creek, so it is good to come back and win in Wollongong. It is a wonderful way to start Australia Day.’’

Wizardry in Wollongong the fuel for global talent

The finishing order to Sunday's women’s aquathon might indicate an international domination, but beneath the surface there is a very Australian flavour.

While it appears an American, a Chilean and Canadian filled the podium, the foreign contingent are very much a part of Wollongong.

Gwen Jorgensen, Barbara Riveros and Ellen Pennock all train with the Wollongong Wizards under coach Jamie Turner.

Third-placed Canadian Pennock is the newest edition to the squad, landing in Australia just in time to compete in the region’s feature event.

Wollongong triathlete Ben Allen celebrates his efforts.

And if her new teammates are anything to go by, she could be here for quite a while.

‘‘I have been in Wollongong since 2006, so it is always special for me to race here,’’ Riveros said.

‘‘I am pretty happy, we are all training partners, so it is good to race each other.

‘‘We have been training hard in Falls Creek for the last week and we really enjoy racing each other and training together as well, so it is a really important and great day to celebrate.’’

Like her teammate Jorgensen, who refers to Wollongong as ‘‘a second home’’ during the warmer months, Riveros becomes a de facto Australian this time of year.

‘‘I have my Australian family, I am pretty much living in Towradgi, so now it is great to race here and I have a lot of friends around here,’’ Riveros said.

But it’s not just international competitors flocking to the Illawarra to train.

Aquathon men’s champion Jacob Birtwhistle is the latest in a long line of Australian athletes to move to the region and take up a spot with the Wizards.

Like former world under-23 Aaron Royle before him, the Tasmanian has opted to call Wollongong home to train with coach Turner.

‘‘It is my first time here in Wollongong. I actually just moved here [on Saturday], so this is my new home,’’ Birtwhistle said. 

‘‘It is just good to get up here where it is a much better environment for training and everything.’’

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