The Busselton SunSmart Ironman WA on Sunday got off to a shaky start after a shark was spotted close to the event in Geographe Bay.
Event organisers called off the swim leg after Surf Lifesavers raised the alarm seeing many athletes who were already in the water make their way out.
The usual Ironman format was modified to a 180 kilometre ride and 42.2km run due to the shark sighting.
Pre-race favourites New Zealand’s Terenzo Bozzone and the Sunshine Coast’s Melissa Hauschildt defended their WA titles with sensational displays of cycling and running.
While both athletes were disappointed with the cancellation of the 3.8km swim leg, they were fully supportive of the decision by race organisers.
“The event staff had to make a safety call to cancel the swim which was the right decision. I have been in other races where they spend too much time contemplating contingencies,” Bozzone said.
“With a definite contingency plan in place here, the event staff managed to enact the plan and get us underway and I managed to ride 180km and run a marathon.”
“I knew I could bike and run faster than I did last year but safety comes first and there is always next year. I wanted to win a triathlon, not a duathlon but the organisers had to do what they did,” Hauschildt said.
City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley was supportive of the race organiser’s decision to cancel the swim and delighted with the quality of racing.
“I think the race directors had a tough call but they had to act in the interest of safety which is always paramount,” he said.
The state government also announced it would fund Ironman WA for another three years until 2020.
The event is expected to contribute about $23.5 million to the WA economy over the next three years, drawing competitors and spectators from 41 different countries.
Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said the triathlon continued to grow in popularity and delivered significant economic and social benefits to WA.
“Last year’s event attracted 4098 out-of-state visitors, including competitors and spectators, resulting in about $8.3 million of direct expenditure to WA,” he said.
“The course highlights some of the most stunning scenery that Busselton has to offer, including the iconic Busselton Jetty, and with about 58 per cent of the field from outside of WA, it will provide fantastic exposure of the South West.”
Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the benefits of hosting such a large-scale event in a regional area like Busselton was far-reaching for the community.
“This premier event not only stimulates local infrastructure projects with lasting benefits, but also offers significant employment and volunteering opportunities to bring this regional community together,” she said.
“About 100 Western Australian contractors are directly engaged and hundreds of volunteers from local sporting and community groups are needed to help run this multi-staged, 17-hour event.”
Ironman Oceania managing director Dave Beeche welcome the announcement and said the Busselton event was an important stop on the global Ironman calendar.