SURF LIFESAVING: Reigning Nutri-Grain Ironwoman Series champion Jordan Mercer knows she's got a target on her back and is braced for a new wave of contenders as a revamped Summer of Surf gets under way at Alexandra Headland this weekend.
The Noosa Heads 22-year-old expects to be seriously challenged by established competitors and by a host of enthusiastic prospects desperately chasing qualifying points for next year's Nutri-Grain Finals Series.
"I'm going to be racing against some up-and-coming superstars who have trained hard and are primed to be at 100% for this event,” she said.
"They will be racing at their optimum so I know the pace is going to be on.”
And most of them are out to get her.
"There's going to be that extra pressure and expectation (of being the reigning summer champ),” she admitted.
It's a new look for surf lifesaving this summer, particularly at the elite level.
There will be six rounds of the Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman Series, which will be held at the six Summer of Surf carnivals.
Competitors' best three results will be tallied and the top five men and women will earn berths in the Nutri-Grain Finals Series at Surfers Paradise, where they will compete against 13 men and women who were granted automatic entry following their results last summer (including Mercer).
The winner of the interstate championships and a wild card will also be included in the finals series, which will boast a $200,000 prize pool.
So Mercer and some of the top athletes don't have to compete this weekend but many will because it's a good opportunity to stay race savvy and build towards the finals series.
"By the time we get to the end of the year and working into January I want to be at my peak fitness and ready to go,” Mercer said.
"I'm going to be racing to win (this weekend) but I know I have a lot more time to build to where I want to be for the tail-end of the season.”
Mercer is still nursing an ankle injury, which forced her to withdraw her entry from the Coolangatta Gold. She feels some pain but has "made some progress on it”.
Last year's runner-up Kirsty Higgison, who has left Noosa to link with Surfers Paradise, is set to race this weekend.
In the men's field, Northcliffe superstar Shannon Eckstein is likely to compete, as will Kurrawa's Matt Bevilacqua.
Each Summer of Surf event also includes a range of other individual and team events, with prize money, which Mercer will also compete in.
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