Ironmnan Nathan Smith will line up for both the Coolangatta Gold and the rich Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Ironman series after gaining a wildcard.
The full-time teacher got a surprise call-up this week from organisers after it was confirmed Ky Hurst had retired after deciding to instead train for the US Oracle team preparing for the 2017 America’s Cup yachting series.
So instead of retiring from Ironman racing himself, Smith, now 34, will take on rivals up to half his age, one more time
It will be extra special for Smith, as North Cronulla beach – just up the road from Smith’s old club Cronulla – will host a round of the new series, with a date to be announced shortly.
“It will be a good race for me and a good way to finish up Ironman,” he added.
His inclusion in the Nutri Grain, for the 18th time since 1999, came as a shock for Smith, who finished 12th in last year’s Nutri Grain series.
“I was going to train for the Coolangatta Gold one more time, and give up Ironman racing if I didn’t qualify for Nutri Grain through the trials,” said the former Australian champion.
“With full-time teaching and three young children, I was just going to set myself for state and nationals for team events.
“Then Kellogg’s asked me if I’d take a wild card back into the series…so I jumped at the opportunity.”
Smith, who had switched from Cronulla SLSC to Manly after a break from the sport for three years after his wife delivered twin daughters, said he will continue working on his endurance before contesting another gruelling Coolangatta Gold – a race where he has had three second placings and two thirds.
“I missed last year’s Gold thinking I would concentrate on [training for] the Nutri Grain series…but it didn’t help me in the series at all.
“So I thought I’d give the Gold another crack, and try and beat that [multiple champion] Caine Ecstein. At least I’ll have a strong endurance base before the new series…and thanks to the wild-card I won’t have to go through the Ironman trials.
“Then there won’t be any more Ironman events… that will be it.”
Smith has won dozens of titles at world, national and state championships, like last year, during an illustrious career.
But he still holds great pride in winning the 2005 Australian Open Ironman title, shortly after watching his sister Kristyl win the Open Ironwoman title, and thus creating surf history as the only brother/sister combination to achieve the feat.
A member of Cronulla SLSC for two decades, he was recently honoured with entry into the NSW Hall of Champions at Sydney Olympic Park, thus joining the likes of Dawn Fraser, Sir Don Bradman and Evonne Goolagong as NSW sportsmen and women who have been elevated to the realm of national heroes.
It was of immense pride for his wife Shannon and their family, including his father-in-law Steve Warren, North Cronulla’s legendary board champion and Surf Life Saving Hall of Champions inductee, who helped coach him over many years.