Star-Bulletin Sports

Friday, October 22, 1999

I R O N M A N _ T R I A T H L O N

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Germany's Thomas Hellriegel is one of five men
to break 8 hours in an Ironman event.

no longer a race
for ‘crazies’

The Kailua-Kona event has evolved
into the world's most prestigious
swim/bike/run challenge

By Carol Hogan
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Kailua-Kona, Hawaii -- To finish is to win.

That is the mantra of nearly 1,500 triathletes who will slip into the water at Kailua Bay tomorrow and begin swimming the first leg of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship.

For the pros who follow the circuit, Ironman Kona is the finale of the 1999 international series and a chance to showcase their talents on the world's most extreme stage.

For the age group divisions, where many compete annually for love of the game, it is their annual renaissance.

For everyone it is the last Ironman before the turn of the century.

This particular multisport was not the first of its kind, but Hawaii's Ironman, and its surrounding mystique, has grown into what most triathletes consider the epitome of the swim/bike/run world. At its inception in 1978 on Oahu, organizers proclaimed it a "challenge bordering on the impossible" and the media labeled it a race for "crazies."


Bullet When: Tomorrow, 7 a.m.
Bullet What: Swim, 2.4 miles; bike 112 miles; run 26 miles, 385 yards. Competitors have 17 hours to finish race.
Bullet Where: Kailua-Kona, Big Island. Swim begins at the pier in Kailua town. Bike race travels north along Queen Kaahumanu Highway to Hawi, then returns along the same route to Keauhou resort. The course travels through Kailua and back to Queen K. highway with a turnaround at OTEC. Contestants run back into Kailua and finish on Alii drive in front of the pier.
Bullet Who: 1,490 qualifiers, ages 18-76 from 50 countries and 50 states.
Bullet Purse: $250,000.
Bullet Hawaii entries: 62
Bullet Web site:

The event -- and it's then-inconceivable distances -- ignited interest from around the world.

When it moved to the Big Island in 1981, another element was added; the extraordinary heat generated along the arid Kona-Kohala coast by centuries-old lava flows where temperatures can climb past 100 degrees.

Nevertheless, the event grew from a 15-competitor sport, where each entrant brought his own support crew, to a huge international event with approximately 7,000 volunteers assisting the athletes.

No Hawaii athlete has ever won the race. From '78 to '93, a series of mainland competitors won the race. Dave Scott (California) won six races and Mark Allen (Colorado) won five.

In 1994 Greg Welch crossed the finish line on Alii Drive waving an Australian flag. In '95 Allen won his sixth race. Since then record holder Luc Van Lierde, Belgium, (8:04.08), Germany's Thomas Hellriegel and defending champion Peter Reid of Canada have posted victories in the men's professional divisions.

Reid, 30, is considered the man to beat this year. After his 1998 Kona win, he claimed his third consecutive Ironman Australia title last May with an 11-minute margin over his nearest competitor. He shared the winners' circle with his wife Lori Bowden, 32, who dominated the women's race, finishing 14 minutes ahead of the pack.

A few months later at the Austria Triathlon, Reid became the first North American male to complete the distance in less than eight hours with a time of 7:51.56. Only four other triathletes have posted sub-eight hour times -- Germany's Lothar Leder, Jurgen Zack and Hellriegel, and Van Lierde. No one has been able beat the heat for a sub-eight in Kona.

There were no female competitors in the 1978 race; Boston's Lyn Lemaire was the first woman to enter in 1979 and finished fifth out of 12. Since then, the women's race has been won by numerous competitors from around the world, but the yardstick by which they compete was set by Paula Newby-Fraser. The former Zimbabwe resident has posted eight wins, four of them consecutively from 1991 to 1994. In 1992, she established the course record of 8:55.28.

Newby-Fraser is not entered this year. Defending champion Natascha Badmann, 33, of Switzerland, made her debut in 1996 and everyone took notice when she biked side-by-side with Newby-Fraser before eventually finishing second. Illness prevented her from finishing the 1997 race, but after her 1998 win she was named Swiss Athlete of the Year.

Bowden was second in both the '97 and '98 Kona contests. Brazil's Fernanda Keller finished third in 1994, '95, '97 and '98.

There are no Hawaii athletes in the professional division as the state's top two males, Brent Imonen and Luis De La Torre, are sitting out this year.

In the women's division, first-time entrant Carolyn Lowe-Thompson, 28, of Waimea, posted a time of 4 hours, 36 minutes, 24 seconds at half the distance in May.

Honolulu's Jodi Jackson, 22, is the cross-country coach at Hawaii Pacific Academy. Jackson is an excellent swimmer.

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