[ IRONMAN TRIATHLON ]
Athletes hope to withstand winds
KAILUA-KONA » Weather could be a big factor for the more than 1,800 athletes registered for today's Ironman Triathlon World Championship.
"It's been windier and warmer than in years past," said Rutger Beke of Belgium, who finished in 5th place last year.
The stiff tradewinds are forecast to lighten a big today, but could still be stronger at the northern tip of the Big Island, said Ray Tanabe, a forecaster with the National Weather Service's Honolulu office. Winds there can be "more squirrely and variable," he said.
Because of the uncertainty of weather conditions, the tough course and a strong field of professional competitors, most of the pros were unwilling to make any predictions on the winner, even their own chances.
"It's a long course and you never know what can happen," said defending champion and five-time winner Natascha Badmann of Switzerland. The Hawaii course is arguably the most difficult in the Ironman races that include a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon run.
"There are so many good guys here, you can't predict (who will win)," said Faris Al-Sultan of Germany, who was third last year.
"It's the biggest race in triathlon, so everyone is here to win," said Beke. The male and female winners each get $110,000, part of prize winnings totaling $580,000.
Defending champion Normann Stadler of Germany said the Hawaii Ironman is "so different from any other race," but said he loves the heat and wind.
Temperatures on the Kona Coast have been in the mid-80s.
The course record of 8 hours, 4 minutes and 8 seconds was set by Luc Van Lierde of Belgium in 1996. Eight-time winner Paula Newby-Fraser, competing then for her native Zimbabwe, set the women's record of 8:55:28 in 1992.
The race is the second in a consecutive three-week series of triathlon world championships. The Olympic-distance Triathlon World Championships, featuring a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bicycle ride, and 10-kilometer run, were held last Sunday in Honolulu, and the X-terra World Championships, an off-road race, are scheduled for next Sunday on Maui.
As many as 50 athletes from the Honolulu race have moved on to Kong, and about 70 of the Ironman competitors are expected for the X-terra race that includes a 1.5-kilometer ocean swim, a 30-kilometer mountain bike ride, and a 10-kilometer trail run.