MOOLOOLABA star Ali Day was left beaming after finishing a close second to his boyhood idol Shannon Eckstein at the Nutri-Grain Ironman Series opener at Perth.
In a confidence-boosting display, Day won the ski race and finished third in the swim and ironman events to finish two points behind the Northcliffe legend, Eckstein, overall.
Matt Poole was 10 points behind Day, his Mooloolaba teammate, in third at Scarborough Beach.
Poole won the afternoon's other event, the board race, and Day came seventh.
Day was leading going into the final event, the ironman, but finished third - and Eckstein again delivered, when it mattered, to take the win and the round.
Day - second overall last season and the bookmakers' second favourite for the series behind six-time champion Eckstein heading into round one - admitted to being "nervous but excited" before the event.
The 22-year-old said: "I suppose I'm lost for words, really. I didn't expect to do that well today … I pulled up really well and I can't wipe the smile off my face."
Day prefers the more endurance-based events, as evidenced by his debut Coolangatta Gold triumph in October.
He finished second behind Caine Eckstein, who is not competing this year, at Perth last season when it was an endurance event.
A new sprint accumulator-points format was unveiled yesterday as organisers attempted to make the event more watchable.
Day said the round was surprisingly demanding.
"On paper it looks like a short event, but it's a long day in the office," he said.
"There was four 15-min
ute races and a lot of rest between races. The longer it went, the better I got."
Despite the closeness of his tussle with Eckstein yesterday, Day said "probably not" when asked if he could get on top of the four-time world ironman champion this season.
CHASING his first Nutri-Grain race win, Day grew up idolising Eckstein.
He said: "Shannon did everything right today. I don't think I've ever really seen him make a mistake before.
"Everyone who saw him race today knows he is the man to beat … he's the ultimate ironman in our sport."
Day hopes to keep learning from Eckstein, a five-time national ironman champion, and one day get his measure.
"Like I said the other day, I'm not trying to push that (first win) and let it come when it comes," he said.
Overall results: 1. Shannon Eckstein; 2. Ali Day (Mooloolaba); 3. Matt Poole (Mooloolaba); 4. Thomas Trembath; 5. Ky Hurst; 6. Kendrick Louis (Mooloolaba); 7. Mitchell Miller; 8. Tom Atkinson; 9. Wade Krieger; 10. Corey Jones (Met Caloundra); 11. Hugh Dougherty; 12. Joshua Minogue; 13. Wes Berg; 14. Alex Tibbits (Mooloolaba); 15. Christopher Moors; 16. Jake Nicholson.