The Singapore International Triathlon was a two-in-one meet for triathletes aiming to claim national glory.

Besides serving as a national championship, the Sunday morning race also served as the final qualifying meet for athletes aspiring to be nominated to next year’s Commonwealth Games, with only two spots left for the women and one spot remaining for the men. The previous qualifying meet was the Osaka NTT ASTC Sprint Triathlon Asian Cup held last June, where SEA Games fourth-placer Christy Suriadi was the lone female representative. Nicholas Rachmadi and Bryce Chong also secured their nominations there.

While the concept of a national championships is not foreign, this year’s championships had a slight twist. Not only did the elite triathletes have a designated local-only category, they were also allowed to draft, which allowed the competitors to adopt a pack strategy as they worked their way through the sprint-distance.

This resulted in Chong, Rachmadi, Aaron Kiss and Zacharias Low all exit the bike leg in a tight bunch. Chong managed to hold onto the lead as he crossed the line first in 1 hour, 1 minute 35 seconds, who was then followed by Low (1:02:08).

“The goal was to just go hard today,” said Chong, whose aim is to score sufficient ITU points to build a strong case for his nomination to compete at the Commonwealth Games.

It has been a turbulent year for Chong. Earlier this year, although the 19-year-old was pleased with his local performances, he failed to meet his own expectations at international meets and qualifiers, particularly the SEA Games trial.

Now, Chong has learned to enjoy himself at races instead of taking them too seriously, making small talk with his fellow athletes during and after the race. A coaching switch to Fabian William last July also proved beneficial as he was able to improve on his running, something Chong considers his weakest point.

For Low, this race was vital not only because it was a Commonwealth qualifier, but also because he has three weeks left before he enlists in national service. Although the Tri-Factor overall champion aims to maintain his fitness among his military responsibilities, his training will be limited to weekends when he books out, leaving his hands tied.

“You can’t save the world in two days,” Low said with a laugh.

Chong and Low will compete once again at the Murakami NTT ASTC Triathlon Asian Cup in two weeks, where they will face off over the standard course.

The women’s elite category podium finishers. L to R: Phoebe Kee (2nd), Ethel Lin (1st), Chang Shuwen (3rd).

While there were only three female elite competitors, champion Lin (1:12:37) was undeterred by the small field, even facing strong competition from runner-up Phoebe Kee (1:13:29). At the start line, Lin, 30, asked Kee, 17, for her age.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the sizable age gap motivated Lin, who is just two months back into training after recovering from injury. The decision to race was a last-minute one, and it paid off handsomely as she secured a Commonwealth nomination.

“I never expected to be here two months ago,” said Lin, who credited Trackstar Athletics coach Elangovan Ganesan. “(I’m just proud) that I turned up today, really, even though I’m at 80 percent.”

Kee and Lin capitalized on the draft-legal rule to work together on the first lap of the bike. Lin, however, harbored an unconscious fear of Kee’s capability to run an 11-minute 3K and gapped her within the first lap to create a buffer on the running leg.

Lin’s current training focuses more on endurance, geared toward her immediate goal of completing a 70.3 Ironman Triathlon at the end of the year. Though she has yet to decide her race schedule for the rest of the year, Lin plans to revisit international meets – after she returns to 100 percent.

“For now, it’s nice to race your first (without the international competition),” she said with a laugh.

Full National Championships results here. Find the rest of the results on the event website.