March 12, 2011 (Saipan, CNMI) – Sam Gardner and Shonny Vanlandingham won the XTERRA Saipan Championship on a crazy, post-tsunami morning in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands on Saturday.
The two also won the XTERRA Philippines Championship last Sunday. The victory is Gardner’s third straight in Saipan, while it’s Shonny V’s first in three tries and ends Renata Bucher’s six-year win streak in the Marianas.
XTERRA managing director “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas was all over the course tracking the race, just hours after tracking the tsunami, and brings us this report.
On a most unusual day in Saipan, Gardner and Vanlandingham made it look easy. Vanlandingham stopped the Saipan winning streak of Swiss Miss Renata Bucher and, for the second week in a row, finished second overall.
“I am a lot more fit this year than last” said Vanlandingham. “There are a lot of important races early this year and my coach and I started getting ready earlier than normal.” Being ready is an understatement as she finished just eight minutes behind Gardner.
The biggest news story was the huge earthquake the night before in Japan. Organizers canceled the annual Friday night trail run as word of the impending tsunami started to spread (do not forget Saipan is over the international dateline, so it was Thursday night on the US Mainland but late afternoon on Friday here in Saipan).
The tsunami did hit Saipan but we were protected by the extremely deep waters outside the island that took almost all the energy out of the big wave. There was literally no damage here unlike the devastation in Japan and the damage in Hawaii and the West Coast. The impact the wave had on XTERRA was a pushing and pulling current typical of the phenomena.
Just before the race, swimmers came in asking the course be changed from counter clockwise to clockwise as there was a big current. We changed the direction but it was not just a simple current but the aftereffects of the tsunami. As swimmers hit the outside buoy, the current changed to pushing in and everyone nearly stopped! Then the current sucked the water away from the beach and many were walking.
“It was a weird experience,” said Horizon Air pilot Lisa Brummond. “The current just kept changing and you never knew what was going to happen next.”
Austrian Carina Wasle (pictured) was third overall and second woman. Wasle had an accident early on the bike but was determined to push hard.
“It was difficult for me. The trails were very slippery and this is my first time here. I wanted to do well so I rode the hills very hard,” said Wasle.
Wasle came into transition more than five minutes behind Bucher but turned in the fastest run of the day – a stunning 55 minutes – to finish third overall. Wasle has had a great early XTERRA season winning South Africa, placing third in the Philippines and second here in Saipan.
Japanese pro Takahiro Ogasawara was second overall behind Gardner for much of the race, but ran out of steam. Shonny caught him early on the run and simply ran away. “Oga-san” was fifth overall. Suzie Snyder came to Saipan to get an early start to her season and had a very solid sixth overall and fourth woman.
Ahhh, Saipan. Now in its 10th year this is a hallmark race and as it has been nicknamed, “The Crown Jewel.” Wasle perhaps said it best, “I think once you have been here, you always need to come back.” The allure of this tiny island is really not possible to describe – but the pull is here. And with Saipan back to back with a great new Philippine race every one of you must think about a two race trip to Asia. Believe me, you will not regret it and you will always remember it.
Takahiro Ogasawara finished in the top five here for the fourth straight year. The race consisted of a 1.5-kilometer ocean swim, a 30k mountain bike that climbed 1,500 feet to the highest point on the island, and an epic 12k trail run that took participants through heavy jungle and into caves used during World War II and along beautiful white sand beaches.
The race served as an important XTERRA World Championship qualifier, as the top age group athletes in each division earned their place at the start line in Maui by virtue of their performance. The top overall amateurs were both from Saipan – Rennan Sublementewith a time of 3:32:21 and Kimiko Hasegawa in 4:41:21.
Pros and locals alike now turn their focus to the Saipan Sportsfest leading up to next Saturday’s Tagaman triathlon. On offer is thePacific Islands Club (PIC) double award, which goes to the man and woman with the fastest combined XTERRA and Tagaman time.
Tagaman is a road triathlon here on Saipan scheduled for March 19. Winners receive $500 cash, seven nights’ accommodation and a complimentary Gold Card (three meals a day in a choice of three restaurants) at the PIC. In between the two races are a whole slate of self-improvement clinics and fun activities for the family.
Saipan is located in the middle of the Western Pacific Ocean – 1,300 miles south of Tokyo, 1,400 miles east of Manila, 3,200 miles west of Honolulu, and 2,900 miles north of Sydney.
Men’s Top 5
1. Sam Gardner GBR 2:53:46
2. Takahiro Ogasawara JPN 3:09:13
3. Paul Chetwynd CAN 3:37:00
4. Adam York JPN 3:41:13
5. Denilson Freitas BRA 3:43:18
Women’s Top 5
1. Shonny Vanlandingham USA 3:01:09
2. Carina Wasle AUT 3:06:33
3. Renata Bucher SUI 3:08:10
4. Suzie Snyder USA 3:20:12
5. Mieko Carey JPN 3:30:37
Also: Daz Parker, Caroline Colonna