By Kristen McFarland
June 29, 2003 (Coeur d’Alene, ID) – The name Coeur d’Alene means a spike through the heart, and that was just what Michael Lovato did to the favorite at the new IRONMAN USA Coeur d’Alene race. With everyone assuming Spencer Smith would walk away with the win, Lovato was somewhat of a dark horse.
In nine IRONMAN races, the best Lovato had ever placed was 10th in Florida in 2001. However, a strong 30th place finish at the World Championship last year with a 4:47 bike split (only two minutes slower than winner Tim DeBoom) showed that he was going to be a stronger contender in the future. A speedy third place at the Utah Half IRONMAN the month before also proved that he was in prime race condition.
He clocked a good swim leg time of 50:14 swimming at what he felt was a comfortable pace. “This was the first time in an IRONMAN where I came out of the water and felt like I had not done a thing, which was kind of nice.”
Once out on the bike, he got word that Spencer Smith was going hard, hammering out a big lead. At one point he was over eight minutes up on the rest of the field, but then he couldn’t hold that pace and slowed during the second of the two loops of the course. It was 90 degrees and windy and the conditions might have been taking a dent out of his pace.
The bike course was very diverse with some solid climbs, including some “small chain ring climbs”, a technical winding downhill section, and seventy five turns on the route. There were also straight sections where the athletes had significant headwinds, and picturesque sections along the lake with lots of trees. “You never got bored,” Lovato remarked.
By the time Lovato had finished the bike he had reeled Smith in to just about a minute and a half lead. “I felt great. I really did an even effort [on the bike].”
Once on the run it wasn’t long until he took the lead.
“I had just gone through the three mile mark. I had seen him a couple of times already because there was about a one mile out and back at the beginning…very quickly I caught him because I think he was slowing a bit.”
The pass became very dramatic. As a whole crew of media was taking pictures and footage of the moment, Smith was mentally crushed by losing the lead and immediately dropped out of the race.
It wasn’t over yet, however, as up-and-coming Raynard Tissink wasn’t far behind and Lovato’s hamstrings started cramping up. “It was definitely bad enough that I had to do something. I stopped to stretch twice…It was pretty nerve-racking.”
He overcame the struggle, however, to make a marathon personal record of 2:58:27, smashing his previous PR by eleven minutes. He ended up winning by 20 minutes.
Heading in to the World Championship it gave him some confidence. “Seeing that I was able to be tough and stick it out in those conditions gave me more confidence than anything…knowing that Kona, no matter which way you look at, it is going to be tough conditions.”
Once at the airport and heading home, he got a bit of star treatment. First, while going through security, he was paged over the airport PA as the winner of the IRONMAN telling him to please report to his plane.
“I started to think something was up. Once I was on the plane as I was about to step into the lou I heard them page me and they made me go to the front of the plane. And once I was there the head flight attendant congratulated me and then upgraded me to first class, which was very exciting. Then they took me up to the cockpit and introduced me to the pilot and copilot. They pretty much tried their best, and succeeded, to make me feel like a rock star. I reveled in that feeling for quite a while,” he said laughing.
Perhaps it was just a taste of things to come.
Caplan Third in First IRONMAN
Boulder native Monica Caplan had a strong IRONMAN-distance debut, coming in third place in 10:04:21 (48:08, 5:33:55, 3:38:51). After beating all of the women out of the water, Caplan traded leads back and forth for a while on the bike with eventual second place finisher Lynley Allison. Eventually both were passed by winner Heather Gollnick.