SURF LIFESAVING: Reigning ironman series champion Matt Poole says he's competing with more enjoyment this season, now the monkey's off his back.
The 29-year-old will compete in round two of the new campaign at Coolum Beach on Sunday and although he feels like a marked man, he can race with relative freedom after claiming a breakthrough title last summer.
"It was something that I'd worked towards for my entire career," he said.
"It was incredible...I've come back to defend the title but to be perfectly honest I'm just really enjoying myself this year.
"I guess it feels like it's a huge monkey off the back now. I've achieved what I wanted to achieve in the sport.
"There's still a few more little goals that I have along the way but certainly now I'm not racing with that sort of question mark over the top of my head now...'will he ever live up to all the hype and will he ever win the series?"
"I beat the best in our sport and I've got that title to my name forever."
But Poole will return to the beach where he captured his first race win in 2009 after a shock eighth placing in the first event of the six-stop 2017/2018 Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Ironman Series, at Queenscliff last month, when young gun TJ Hendy claimed a surprise win.
"I'm still happy with how I raced and I was certainly up there for the win through 80 to 90 per cent of the race so I've got to take the positives from a negative result and it's onwards and upwards at Coolum," he said.
There's likely to be plenty of swell and a longer racing format this weekend, which is ideal, according to Poole.
"We want a test of the toughest. We want the fittest, the strongest and the fastest guys to win races," he said.
"There's a lot of fresh young faces that stepped up to the line in Queenscliff and they were very hungry and very promising. This week will be exciting because it's a little bit longer, a little bit more of a test. We'll see if those guys have got the guts to stand up and beat the usual contenders.
"When the going gets tough and the format gets longer, we'll see if those fresh faces can stick it to the guys who have been there for the last decade."
Poole said it was good to see a new crop of talent emerging.
"They've got really good legs in them. They've just got to find out how to put together that whole ironman race and that's a coming of age.
"Some guys will discover the key and what it takes earlier than others."
He said he was still learning.
"I've been in the series for 10 years and every time I go to Coolum it (the surf) teaches me a thing or two."
Poole is competing with some strain, after getting stress fractures in his foot during the off-season.
"I'm finding it very difficult to run but I'm handling that as best I can given that we're in the middle of the series and I don't have the luxury of having two to four weeks off to let that heal. It's not a stop sign, it's just a speed bump," he said.
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