STILL RIDING HIGH: Ironman great Shannon Eckstein heads for shore yesterday at the Maroochy Surf Classic at Maroochydore Beach.
STILL RIDING HIGH: Ironman great Shannon Eckstein heads for shore yesterday at the Maroochy Surf Classic at Maroochydore Beach. PHOTO BRETT WORTMAN

Motivation easy to find for Eckstein despite his ageing body

EVEN the great ones endure doubts.

He is arguably the greatest ironman ever, but Shannon Eckstein is unsure how his ageing body will cope with the more intense format for this season's Nutri-Grain Ironman Series.

Having turned 30 in May, the seven-time and reigning series champion admits the upcoming series poses a major test for him as he looks to add to his record number of titles against the younger, hungry brigade.

The revamped series - which aims to excite with big surf - opens at Margaret River's Smiths Beach with back-to-back rounds on November 30 and December 1.

Rounds three to five will be staged at Newcastle Beach from December 14-15, before the final round at Coolum on February 23.

Like many of the leading ironmen and ironwomen, Eckstein is finetuning on the Coast this weekend at the $30,000 Maroochy Surf Classic.

He advanced to today's ironman final after winning his semi-final yesterday.

"Definitely age is a hind-rance when you're backing up," he said.

"You don't recover as well as I did two years ago, let alone eight years ago.

"So you keep that in mind when you're training.

"It shouldn't be too much of a concern, but definitely, I'd rather be 25 than 30 going into three races over two days (at Newcastle)."

The Northcliffe star said the rapid-fire nature of this season's series meant competitors could ill-afford a slow start.

"So you've got to be pretty much on the ball from the first round, because two weeks after that we've done five rounds already out of the six," he said.

Apart from Coolum, which will be telecast live, the races have a delayed coverage on Channel 9.

Eckstein prefers the Sunday afternoon live coverage, but understands organiser Kellogg's is trying to attract new spectators to the sport.

"It's not so much for the people who follow ironman day to day - they love the live racing," he said.

"But package it up and try and make it look better for the people that we're trying to attract to get ratings back to where we should be."

AFTER achieving so much in the sport, including five national ironman titles and four world ironman crowns, Eckstein finds motivation in "little things".

Last season it was securing his maiden Portsea win.

This season it is getting to race at a new venue - Smiths Beach - and the lure of winning another title in big surf.

He rates Kurrawa great Ky Hurst the series' dark horse.

The men's ironman final today will include Mooloolaba members Matt Poole, Josh Minogue, Cameron Cole and Matt Bevilacqua.

The women's final features reigning Nutri-Grain champion Courtney Hancock, Noosa's Jordan Mercer and Krystal Smith.