Star-Bulletin Sports

Saturday, October 13, 2001


Athletes go to extreme
in Xterra triathlon

By Cindy Luis

There are biathletes and triathletes, iron and ultra athletes.

Then there are the crazy ones, otherwise known as extreme athletes.

Some are doing it as a cool-down from last week's Ironman on the Big Island. Others are doing it as a break from their Olympic triathlon training. At least one is using it as a welcome change of pace from his Ultraman (double Ironman) preparations.

These are the ones who will be on the course tomorrow at the 6th Nissan Xterra World Championship on Maui.

It's an offroad triathlon: a .93-mile roughwater swim off Wailea Beach; an 18-mile mountain bike ride up and down Haleakala to the Old Makena Stables; and a 6.8-mile run from Makena to the Wailea Resort Luau Grounds.

As the sponsor's slogan says, it's "Everything you need and nothing you don't."

The sold-out field of 400 includes the elite of the triathlete world, including defending champions Michael Tobin and Kerstin Weule; Tinman record-holder Peter Hursty, one of three pro men's competitors from Hawaii; Chris McCormack of Australia, the winningest triathlete on the international circuit this year; and South African Conrad Stoltz, who won the USA Championship last month, as well as the Xterra point series.

"I've heard so much about the course, I had to try it," said Stoltz, who finished 20th at the 2000 Sydney Olympics triathlon. "After training for the Olympics, my coach told me I could do whatever I wanted this year.

"I wanted to get a change of pace and refresh my mind. And the prize money was pretty good."

Stoltz won $10,000 as the Points Series champion. Tomorrow's first-place pro finishers in the men's and women's divisions pocket $20,000 each out of the $105,000 purse.

There's also a $2,500 check for the Hawaiian Airlines Double Champions, awarded to the top pro male and female with the fastest combined Xterra and Ironman times. Last Saturday's Ironman was considered harsher than most of the previous events and took its toll on those wanting to do both races within an eight-day span.

Xterra World Championship

When: Tomorrow, 9 a.m.

Where: Wailea, Maui

What: 400 triathletes competing for $105,000.

Course: .93-mile swim, Wailea Beach; 18-mile mountain bike ride, Wailea up Haleakala and down to Old Makena Stables; 6.8-mile run from Makena to Wailea Resort Luau Grounds.

Web site: Live coverage and information,

Among those who have committed to compete are Beth Zinkland of the U.S., who won the "Double" award last year, and Wendy Ingraham, who was stung in the mouth by a bee during last year's Xterra and had to drop out of the race.

Stoltz is considered one of the stronger cyclists, but he will have little advantage over the field. Competitors are not allowed on the course prior to the race (called a blind ride) and will navigating a trail run that has a 1,420-foot elevation drop.

"It will be interesting coming down, not knowing what's around the next corner," said Stoltz, who has borrowed a mountain bike for competition all year.

Stoltz led the triathlon at the Sydney Games with a minute lead when transitioning from the bike to the run portion. He said he ran out of gas at the end, went back to the drawing board and particularly worked on his swimming.

Hawaii athletes are expected to dominate the opening swim leg. Glenn Wachtel, a Haleiwa lifeguard, set the course record last year, finishing the two-lap 750-meter triangular course in 18 minutes, 10 seconds. John Flanagan, who won the U.S. open-water championship earlier this year, and is a multiple winner of the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, will be competing for the first time in the Xterra.

Another top swim contender is Chris Bettis, a former Navy SEAL and current Honolulu firefighter. He epitomizes the extreme mentality needed for this race.

"This race is so much fun," he said, competing in his third Xterra. "I like the swim the best but the bike course has a brutal hill climb. You learn to pace yourself because the bike course takes its toll if you go out too fast."

Bettis has been training for next month's Ultraman on the Big Island. It is a double Ironman course: a 4.8-mile ocean swim, 224-mile bike ride and double marathon (52.4-mile run).

"Triathletes are different," said Bettis. "And the Xterra athletes are even more different. That's what sets this race apart. It's a different breed of athlete, a real fun crowd and a real fun race."

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