Hancock has firm hold on title

COURTNEY Hancock is within reach of the title with just one round of the the Kelloggs Nutri-Grain Ironwoman series remaining.

Sawtell Surf Life Saving Club's high-profile protégé leapt to the top of the rankings yesterday with a second-place finish in round four at Portsea on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

Unheralded 18-year-old Amy Nurthen took out the event ahead of Hancock and Alicia Marriott.

With the three-race sprint format shortened to just two races due to the challenging 2.5metre surf, Nurthen won the first race and finished second in the next to claim overall victory.

Hancock's second-place effort elevated her to the top of the rankings with 74 points, six points clear of Marriott.

Hancock needs only to finish in the top six in the series final at Noosa next Sunday to claim her maiden championship.

Previous series leader Elizabeth Pluimers was the hard luck story of the day, cracking a surf ski in each race to finish a devastating 17th and slip to third overall.

Hancock's younger sister Bonnie finished 10th overall.

Nurthen, whose previous best result was a fourth in round three, overcame nerves that brought her to tears earlier in the day.

“I was really nervous this morning when I came here,” she said.

“I had a bit of a tear and I didn't want to go out in the surf but it turned out really well.”

Meanwhile, the Hancock sisters' biggest fan, grandmother Molly Goodenough, was at home watching a delayed telecast of the race when the Coffs Coast Advocate called.

But she wasn't displeased with the cat out of the bag as she was busting to know the outcome.

“Oh, this is just the best news all day,” she said.

“Courtney has been dreaming since she was little of one day winning the series and to know she's so close to doing that is fantastic.

“I had an idea this could be her breakthrough event as she's been waiting to get into the big seas which she loves.

“I'll be saying prayers constantly for the rest of the week until after the last race.”

Zane Holmes won the ironman event ahead of Ky Hurst while Shannon Eckstein finished third to reclaim the series lead.

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