2003 Utah Half Ironman
By Michael Lovato
May 31, 2003 (Provo, UT) – It is extremely rare to get a second chance to make a first impression. If appearance or performance or accomplishment falls short of expectations, it is often beyond our means to reform perceptions. In general we are overwhelmed by our initial encounters, and attempts to build a new version are in vain. However, on May 31st the folks of Provo, Utah and the crew of Ironman North America attempted to do just that. After a tragic and ultimately failed attempt to stage an Ironman race early last summer, Utah Lake State Park was again to be the venue of a long-distance triathlon. Again the race would serve as a qualifying event for the Ironman World Championships for age-groupers, and a $25,000 prize purse would draw many of the sport’s top professional competitors. It seemed that the beautiful city, situated forty-five miles south of Salt Lake City, would have another shot at impressing the Triathlon World…
Or would it? For the first time in several years, an Ironman North America event failed to sell every space available. For the first time, triathlon’s eager and willing were shying away from the lure of a challenging event. With just more than half of a capacity field, it was evident that USATers were reluctant to give Provo a second chance. Would those that signed up hoping to wipe away the painful memories of a race-gone-bad be rewarded? Or was a similar result awaiting them?
Unfortunately, the strangely shallow Utah Lake was again the target of an early morning windstorm. Race officials had determined that in order to avoid the disaster of the previous year, gusts above 15mph would be sufficient cause to cancel the swim portion of the race. In stark contrast to the previous two days, during which the lake was glassy and smooth, the water race morning was choppy and rough. After delaying the start by fifteen minutes, race officials opted to let the professionals warm up, thus allowing them the opportunity to determine if the swim would be safe for the masses. While bobbing up and down and dodging crashing waves, I had a brief conversation with defending champion, Tony DeBoom. He commented that the conditions were eerily similar to those of last year, although not quite as bad. In what most pros considered a sound decision, race officials opted to cancel the swim for amateurs, yet to allow professionals to swim as planned.
With over three minutes’ lead on the second place woman, Boulder’s Monica Caplan exited the water with the lead men, notching the fourth fastest swim of the day. Swiftly moving through a long transition, Caplan continued her charge once on the 56-mile bike course. Over the first half of the bike, Monica extended her solid lead with only the top male swimmers on the day responding to her torrid pace. The flat and breezy out-and-back bike course afforded her the opportunity to place over nine minutes between herself and her nearest competitor by the close of the ride.
Leaving transition for her second-ever half marathon, Caplan, a second-year pro, left many spectators wondering just who it was that was dealing such a major blow the some of the sport’s top endurance athletes. Putting up a valiant fight, Caplan’s incredible work ethic was allowing her to fend off some of triathlon’s most fleet of foot. Determined to whittle away as much of the solid deficit as she could, Canada’s Lisa Bentley flew out of transition, en route to recording the day’s sixth fastest run… overall. Her 1:19 half marathon was quick enough to put an end to Caplan’s day at the front. Overtaking Monica at mile ten, Bentley moved on to secure the win by three minutes, nearly seven minutes ahead of third place, Heather Fuhr. Pleased with her performance, but disappointed to lose her lead on the run, Monica commented, “On the bike it was encouraging to keep the men in my sights. They worked as my gauge and I tried to keep contact with them for as long as I could. It’s so motivating to have that carrot always in front of you.” She was quick to credit the speedy Canadian on a job well done: “Lisa looked great when she passed me; she looked so fresh.”
On the men’s side, Tony DeBoom fought through the choppy waters to exit with the day’s second fastest swim. He combined that with a solid ride to exit transition 2 in third place, seconds behind former Ironman World Champion, Peter Reid, and nearly four minutes down from race leader, Bjorn Andersson of Sweden. Next out of T2, with a forty-second advantage on the charging trio of Cameron Brown, Craig Alexander, and Matthew Clark, was this magazine’s reporter, Michael Lovato.
With little changing at the front of the race (as Bjorn continued to maintain the lead he held all day), I began my battle with a deadly duo: Brown and Alexander. Not long past the 5K mark, I edged ahead of both, to secure a “safe” 20-second lead. Looking only to the race ahead, I managed to overcome Reid with over eight miles remaining. Another four miles down the road, I advanced past Tony to slide into second place. Unbeknownst to me, I was not the only racer to be slowly picking his way through the field. After pulling away from Alexander, Brown was still in hot pursuit. Aware of the time I was gaining on our steady race leader, Andersson, I was excitedly anticipating a sprint finish, down to the very wire.
Nearly past the twelve-mile mark, I heard the dreaded sounds of footsteps and heavy breathing. Dropping my pace to match that of the one overtaking me, I realized a ding-dong battle was at hand. Unable to match the stride of a quick-moving Brown, I conceded second place. Hopeful that my visions of a sprint finish were still a viable possibility, I proceeded to chase. Up ahead, a startled Bjorn relinquished his lead to Cameron, as he looked back to notice a second stalker: me. A sprint-finish indeed, yet a sprint-finish for three: within seventeen seconds of each other, our top three crossed the line. An ecstatic Brown, an exhausted Andersson, and a pleased reporter-turned-racer, me.
When questioned about his victory, Cameron announced that he couldn’t be happier to have won, stating that, “this is the first time in a long time that I’ve won in America-it’s great!” Bjorn echoed his sentiments by saying that, “I was happy with the race. I went for it, and had a good run at it.” Holding off several charging competitors, Tony DeBoom ended his comeback race in fourth, while Alexander rounded out the top five.
In the age-group corner, a time-trial start was in order for the newly formed Utah Duathlon, part II. Many of Colorado’s toughest were on hand to challenge for the coveted Ironman Slots. Amongst them was former pro racer, current high-school teacher, Teri Cady-qualifying for her chance to race in Kona. Also in the mix was one of Boulder’s studliest cyclists, Michael Larsen. Notching the day’s fastest bike split overall and combining it with a solid run earned him a hard-fought second place in the 35-39 age group. Having already qualified for Hawaii, Larson was content to notch GC points in lieu of snagging another slot.
With all said and done, the city of Provo enjoyed its opportunity to remake its impression of the Triathlon Community. However, with Mother Nature in an uncooperative mood, a less-than anticipated race distance, and a slew of disappointed swimmers, there will likely be no third chance to make a first impression.