IRONMAN legend Guy Leech says this year's Nutri-Grain Ironman Series represents the beginning of the changing of the guard.
For more than a decade Gold Coast trio Shannon Eckstein, Ky Hurst and Zane Holmes have ruled the series with an iron fist, winning 12 titles between them.
However, some bright young stars have emerged in the 2011-12 series, including Mooloolaba duo Ali Day and Kendrick Louis.
Heading into Sunday's third round at Newcastle, Louis sits in first place, one spot ahead of Day and Hurst.
The series was given a makeover last year, bringing with it greater television coverage and more prizemoney and sponsors.
Its boost in popularity has allowed more of its competitors to train full-time.
Leech, also a director of the series, said because more athletes were now professional, the likes of Day, Louis and their clubmate Matt Poole were able to devote more time to training and were closing the gap on the big three.
"The Shannon Ecksteins, the Ky Hursts, the Zane Holmes are coming back (to the field)," Leech said.
"The new era is starting right now and you've got more athletes that are professional athletes now training full-time. They don't have jobs."
"They put all their time and effort into being the best athletes they can be. Because of that you don't have that gap that you used to have between the top guys to the ones down the ranks.
"Those lines have been diminished and it's game on."
Leech said Mooloolaba coach Michael King deserved credit for instilling a strong work ethic in his athletes.
"He (King) was an athlete that ticked every box and did all the work that you're meant to do to get the most out of yourself," he said. "And he coaches like that. I think that his squad get the benefit of his experience - he was an athlete that won the Coolangatta Gold and an ironman series.
"I think the times are about to change now."