How Local Lad Kyle Buckingham Won Ironman African Champs

It was a hometown victory for PE-born Kyle Buckingham - much to the delight of the thousands of spectators that lined the course.

Kirsten Curtis |

Spectators and TV viewers alike were on their feet on Sunday, as Kyle Buckingham, 34, claimed an emotional victory at the Standard Bank IRONMAN South African Championship in the town where he was born, Port Elizabeth. Breaking the tape in a time of eight hours and 13 minutes, Buckingham admitted winning in front of his home crowd was “a dream come true”.

Having only taken up triathlon ten years ago (and turning pro in 2014), the hometown hero is no stranger to the top step of the podium. He won Ironman Lake Placid in 2014 and Ironman Vineman, California in 2016, and still holds the age-group course record for Ironman Hawaii which he set in 2013. But “to win on home soil is just amazing! It truly is a dream come true.”

Here, Kyle breaks the race down for us, and all the elements that alligned to give him the greatest win of his career…

My training leading up to the race was spot on! I had been training for 20 weeks since my last race and there was nothing more I could have done or given. It all came together perfectly.

Related: Swim Freestyle Like A Pro By Following These Tips

During the swim, I found myself in the perfect position – in with the main pack of contenders. I felt good and it showed as this has been one of my fastest swims in an Ironman.

Kyle Buckingham wins Ironman African Champs
Photo credit: IRONMAN | Chris Hitchcock

On the bike I felt incredible but I had to be patient and smart. I knew I was the strongest in the group, as every time I shouted for someone else to have a turn on the front they all shook their heads. I eventually sat up and slowed down to move to the back of the pack so the others could do some of the work. While I was at the back I got stung by a bee in my eye socket under my visor. I could only see through one eye and all I could think was ‘how am I going to run with one eye closed?’ Luckily it didn’t swell up too badly, but boy, did it sting!

Related: From Poverty To Winning Bronze At The Commonwealth Games

Once I put on my running shoes I knew it was going to be an amazing day. I felt incredible from the start of the marathon. I knew I could not give Cam (the then leader) more than a 15-minute lead and I knew that if I persevered and stuck to my paces I would eventually catch him. From the start Cam was egging me on, saying “come and get me”. I kept getting time splits alone the route and every time I got a split I was significantly closing the gap. When I was around 7 minutes behind he said to me “you still haven’t got me mate”, then I knew, GAME ON, BUDDY! I gained more time and at 5 minutes down, we crossed paths again and I looked at my watch and said to him “I’ve nearly got you”. And then I did. For the last 10km I was running on pure adrenaline. I knew I was about to win and the crowd knew it too.

Kyle Buckingham wins Ironman African Champs
Photo credit: IRONMAN | Chris Hitchcock

The crowd support was truly amazing! Every year the support from the crowd is epic but on Sunday I think the support and the energy was extra strong. In the last few kays, my emotions were next-level. At the final aid station I had to almost come to a walk as I didn’t know if it was real or not. Everyone could see the emotion in my face as I was trying to take it all in and make my way to the red carpet and finish line.

I would like to thank everyone that supported me on Sunday. You guys carried me to the finish with your energy. Thanks to the incredible team behind me. It truly takes a village – without them my dream could not have been a reality.

Related: How to Train For a Triathlon

Kyle’s advice for guys wanting to tackle the race next year? “If you have a coach, you have to believe in their programme and do every session. If you dont have a coach, find one! Listening to your body is number one. If it does not feel right it probably isn’t. And don’t forget to practice your race nutrition closer to the race. That’s absolutely key.

Kyle is only one of two South Africans to ever win Ironman on home soil. The legendary Raynard Tissink has won in Nelson Mandela Bay three times before him; in 2005, 2010 and 2011.

Related: Master The Triathlon In 5 Easy Steps

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