In the end, it was a close fight between a young Seychelles native and a celebrated Ironman veteran

By Catherine Orda | Photos by Javier Lobregat

In what was perhaps one of the closest fights in recent Philippine triathlon history, Nicholas Baldwin of Seychelles outlasted legendary Kiwi triathlete Cameron Brown, making him not only the first ever full Ironman Philippines champion but also the first Ironman champion from Seychelles.

Baldwin’s performance had been promising right from the gunstart. He completed the swim leg just three minutes behind leader and New Zealander Simon Cochrane and proceeded to take the lead for the most part of the race. Baldwin’s advantage was not particularly promising though—during the bike leg, Cochrane and Austria’s Freddy Lampert were chasing relentlessly, even overtaking him on multiple occasions.

The men’s pros dash off into the water to start the 3.8-kilometer swim

At around 10 in the morning, Lampert took the lead in the bike leg, leaving Baldwin trailing very closely—and as what became evident soon enough—determinedly. Just 30 minutes after that shift, Baldwin regained a solid advantage over Lampert and Cochrane, and was the first to complete the 180-kilometer bike leg. As the first male pro to reach T2, Baldwin resolved to maintain his lead in the run leg, achieving a nine-kilometer advantage over Cochrane despite the fact that it started to rain at this point of the race. It was also around this time that Brown started gaining traction. Known to be an exceptionally fast runner, Brown ran at a speed that posed a serious threat to Baldwin’s quest, leaving the latter’s advantage dwindling by a good eight kilometers.

The last few minutes of the race found Baldwin and Brown in a very close match, the gap between them getting smaller and smaller. At one point, Brown was trailing behind Baldwin by just a hundred meters. But then there it was yet again—Baldwin’s persistence. He upped his lead by a few more hundred meters, and was the first to complete the course, clocking in at an impressive 8:50:13.

Over 1,200 participants competed at the Century Tuna Ironman Philippines 2018

His steady approach to the finish line was marked by extreme exhaustion, but there was also joy and tenderness as he smilingly shed a few tears and laid down by the bleachers after claiming his medal. The crowd cheered for the 30-year-old, who, for about six years now, has been working exceptionally hard towards winning an Ironman championship. “It feels like more than six years to be honest. I’ve been racing for so long now and I’ve been trying very hard to win an Ironman event, so to finally win is very special. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, and to finally get here after many, many failures and disappointments is just great.”

Asked about his experience during the race, he admitted that run was the worst and most challenging part—the portion of the race in which Cameron Brown’s speed became a serious threat. “There was a lot of suffering in the run, I was trying to get the lead. So I just gave everything in the last half, and thankfully I managed to hold on. I was running scared the whole way because I didn’t know how far behind the guys were, and so to finally come round to the last two kilometers of the run was very special.”

First female pro finisher Liz Blatchford was fourth overall, just behind the top three men

Sunrise Events founder Fred Uytengsu and 12-time Ironman New Zealand champion Cameron Brown

Baldwin’s win is historic for reasons already stated. Prior to his victory, no one from the Seychelles has ever achieved such an athletic feat, which, arguably, makes Baldwin the most accomplished athlete in his home country. Another previously mentioned reason is the fact that today’s race marks the Philippines’ very first foray into full distance triathlons—and, as we can glean from how it has turned out, the inauguration is a success, and only confirms the Filipino’s passion and gift for the sport. As Baldwin himself says, “I’ve heard a lot about triathlons in the Philippines, and when I got here I was really surprised by how triathletes here get into the race. They’re really passionate about it. So it’s definitely special to win the first full distance Ironman here in the Philippines.”

“It feels like more than six years to be honest. I’ve been racing for so long now and I’ve been trying very hard to win an Ironman event, so to finally win is very special. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, and to finally get here after many, many failures and disappointments is just great,” says Baldwin

Greg Banzon, EVP and COO of Century Pacific Food, Inc., says of the race’s success: “The family of triathletes have grown and with it the clamor for an Ironman event in the Philippines. Seeing finishers of different fitness levels and backgrounds is truly inspiring and we congratulate all the Ironmen and Ironwomen who made history today.” August Benedicto meanwhile completed the race in 9:48, topping the Asian Elite Division and becoming the first Filipino to finish a full Ironman in the country.

Blatchford, Duke Dominate Female Pro Division

August Benedicto became the first Filipino to complete an Ironman on home soil

Equally compelling was the performance of Liz Blatchford, who, right from the very beginning, was ahead of all the female pros. She successfully maintained her lead throughout the whole race. Blatchford is simply an exceptional athlete—not only maintaining a consistent advantage over her competitors but also successfully overtaking one of the male pros. At some point during the last few kilometers of the run, Blatchford zoomed past Lampert and completed the race just after Cochrane (who placed third overall), clocking in at 9:22.

Though no female pro was able to overtake Blatchford, there were a few who came close. Australia’s Dimity Lee Duke, for instance, finished second to Blatchford throughout the whole race. This went on for a good number of hours—Blatchford confident in her lead and Duke upping her speed until the gap became smaller and smaller. At one point, however, Duke was penalized and had to stop racing for a few minutes. And so she stood and watched as New Zealand’s Simone Maier ran past her. But, as with how these things usually go, even the most critical changes can take place in the final moments: Duke, with an additional five-minute lag, persisted and clocked in at 9:40, becoming the second female pro to complete the race.