2001 IRONMAN USA Lake Placid
By A.J. Johnson
ISSUE #12, August/September 2001 – The 2001 edition of IRONMAN USA saw many incredible efforts by both pros and age groupers alike. Two pro athletes made their stunning IRONMAN debuts, and age group records fell in almost every category. In the women’s category two familiar faces battled through the last miles to stand atop the podium.
The 7:00 A.M. start had 1,809 wetsuit-clad Ironmen and women, a record number of athletes for an IRONMAN event. The two-loop swim had many familiar names up front, as well as some surprises thrown in. While Australian Jon Van Wisse swam under his own course record in 46:16, a little over a minute and a half back the second group had some big surprises in it. Joanna Zeiger had the fastest woman’s time and was out in 47:22, three and a half minutes up on second place Andrea Fisher.
Age grouper Bill Reeves of Durham, N.C. battled with swim star Alec Rukosuev to finish in 47:19. Starting well on his first IRONMAN trip was Boulder’s Ryan Bolton as he exited the water in the top ten in 47:49. With his strong bike skills and obvious run speed, this was certainly a good sign. Defending champion, and fellow Boulderite Cam Widoff was within striking distance, only three minutes back of Bolton. Steve Larsen, the two time NORBA cross country champion, was a little back of the main contenders as he swam a 57:09.
Also showing swim power were Colorado’s Monika Bunting and Beth Anderson, exiting the swim in 51:07 and 54:31 respectively.
The bike course consisted of two loops of rolling to steep hills, with no real places to rest. To no one’s surprise it was Steve Larsen posting the fastest split of the day, setting a new bike course record as he blazed through in 4:33:23. Trailing Larsen was Bolton, who was sticking to his plan on the bike.
“I made sure to stay in the heart rate zones I was supposed to stay in; I never went over that, which is exactly what I wanted to do,” he commented.
The run specialist had some serious ground to cover, as Larsen had been on the run course for just over fifteen minutes by the time he headed out of T2. Coming in right behind Bolton was Austin, TX native James Bonney, who had the fourth fastest bike on the day. Widoff hit the run trailing Larsen by just under 23 minutes.
“I had been training real hard on the bike so I was just flat as a pancake on the bike. I had nothing on the bike,” Widoff said, despite having the seventh fastest bike split.
Many Coloradoan age groupers were ready for the rolling terrain. In fact, most said they were too eager and paid for it on the second lap.
“I think I went a little hard on the first lap and paid for it on the second,” said Daniel Timm of Vail.
Some did hold back and let the day come to them.
“I actually did really well on the first lap. I held back and then everyone started coming back to me after 100 miles,” said Charlie Suthard of Boulder.
Top bike times for Coloradoans were 5:24:55 by Mark Lesinski of Evergreen and Nadine Kerr of Fort Collins posted a time of 6:00:08.
For the pro men it came down to the two who were making their first attempt at the IRONMAN distance. Larsen, having never run a marathon before, let alone after 112 miles of warm up. And Bolton, the short course speedster. Early on it looked as though Larsen would hang on easily, as he cruised through mile three in 6:35. But Bolton did start to eat into Larsen’s lead early.
“On the second lap I know I wasn’t making up as much time, and I knew he was still running strong. I was thinking that he might hit a wall at some point,” Bolton said afterwards.
No one could have predicted how strong Larsen would run. Ultimately he had the third fastest marathon split behind Bolton and Widoff. Larsen was first across the line in a new course record of 8:33:11. While Bolton’s top marathon time of 2:49:52 secured second, strongman Widoff used his quick run to take the last podium spot.
“I am right where I want to be. I really just enjoyed the day. Larsen had a great race; Ryan had a great race. For a first IRONMAN debut on a hard course like this it’s good for them,” Widoff said. He was also excited to see more American faces with him on the podium.
“I was really happy to see a couple American guys up there. It’s good to see them hold on for the run.”
In the women’s race the bike leg would not be as decisive as it was for the men. Zeiger took her swim lead and looked to extend it on the first loop of the bike. Passing through the 50 mile mark Zeiger had a minute lead on Fisher, Mary Ellen Powers and Julianna Nievergelt. Another two minutes back was Canadian Heather Fuhr who was trying to close the gap in order to be close for the run.
Zeiger was first off the bike and out on the run, ahead of Powers by nearly three minutes. Fisher was in third coming out of T2, another minute back. It was Fuhr however, that posed the biggest threat to Ziegler’s overall lead. With the swift footed Canuck only seven minutes back the race was to be decided on the run.
Fuhr took the pace out hard in the first miles in an attempt to close ground quickly. At a 6:15 pace she was able to start reeling Zeiger in. But Zeiger was not about to let her lead slip away easily. It wasn’t until over the halfway point that Fuhr was able to pull even with the leader. Fuhr did pull away from Zeiger to a maximum lead of three minutes. In a strong counter-attack during the last miles Zeiger picked up her pace and was closing in by 15 to 20 seconds a mile. Fuhr was able to hang on for the win with a time of 9:31:11, and a top marathon time of 3:01:28. The emotions of the win were evident as Fuhr broke into tears of joy.
“I know that Joanna’s a very good runner and she was one of the people I was worried about having too much of a lead. I just had to go for it and I went for it and I did pay for it a little bit at the end but luckily it was enough to hold her off,” Fuhr said.
Zeiger came through the tape two minutes later to take second, having run the second fastest woman’s marathon on the day. Stealing the last podium spot was Laura Drake, who biked to the second fastest split.
For age group athletes the hills on the bike made the rolling run course even more difficult. Posting the top men’s marathon was Jim Harness of Evergreen, who covered the 26.2 miles in 3:12:32. Harness was also the fastest man overall in a time of 9:47:45. For the women it was Tamara Harrison of Boulder setting the run pace as she posted a time of 3:56:13 and she was also the top woman in a time of 11:11:42.