Doubling the Course
On the morning at 6am of the Race day, March 18, the West Bay Beach was deserted. Soon a bustling group of volunteers was moving about, setting up signs, preparing kayaks and attempting to place the giant buoys that would serve as the swimmers markers. Ryan Klauson, volunteer and dive instructor at Native Sons, West End, eyed his kayak cautiously, “I’ve only kayaked twice before, he muttered as he trudged into the ocean.
Athletes milled about, carrying their bikes cautiously across the sand, checking their gear, stretching and warming up. Everything was in place. Even the sun was attempting to break though the clouds and a decent crowd had gathered. The transition area of the 2007 Bay Islands Triathlon was again centered around the Mayan Princess Resort.
The race for the first time in its history featured a double Olympic distance and the eight athletes that signed up for it were in the water first. It was 6:45am. They were about to attempt a 3000m swim, a 80 kilometer bike ride and a 20 kilometer run.
A few minutes later the Elite athletes in the Olympic distance lined up. The Roatan event was key for many of them as they cumulated qualifying points for this year’s Triathlon World Championship and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Their goal was a 1,500 meter swim, a 40 kilometer bike ride and a 10 kilometer run. Last from the beach were the sprint and relay athletes. They competed in a 750m swim, 25 kilometer bike ride and 5 kilometer run.
To distinguish groups and individual athletes, each one of them wore a different colored swim cap and wore a number painted onto their arms by volunteers. A letter on the back of their calves indicated the distance they competed in: L for long, O for Olympic and S for sprint.
One of the long distance competitors was number 51, Michael Chastain, from South Carolina. He competed in about 75 triathlons including, three on Roatan. While Chastain was getting prepared for the island race the RECO electricity black outs affected his morning diet and possibly performance. His breakfast was limited to some fruit and cereal before the race. His normal, large, cooked breakfast was off the menu.
The giant, 30 foot Barena blow-up beer bottle stood next to the finish line and was given as a directional marker for the swimmers. Next to the banner, holding a Barena flag, stood two ‘Barena girls’ in their shorts and skimpy turquoise tops with matching eye shadow.
With the “pop” of the starters’ pistol, the race began and Athletes launched themselves into the undulating waters of the Eastern Caribbean. The volunteers in their kayaks watched nervously. From their viewpoint they could see the tidal drop that left the reef just a few inches below the surface in some areas of the course.
30 minutes later, surprisingly, first out of the water was Great Britain’s Jodie Swallow. She came out even ahead of the Elite Men who had started with a two minute lead. There was a silent moment of consideration and then the crowd erupted in supportive cheers.
Swallow was a great swimmer and she has been competing in swimming since the age of 12, but it was likely that she had missed out part of the course. A reason for disqualification. The judges and volunteers responsible for keeping an eye on the swimmers were still in their kayaks and Swallow just ran through the resort, into the transition area where she quickly pulled on her biking gear and bike.
As the Olympic distance men began to pour up the beach, signs of close calls with the reef were everywhere. Several of the athletes had bleeding cuts on their legs and chest from the sharp reef they hit into.
As the roads were still slippery from the night rain some athletes fell. Number 20, USA’s Dan MacKenzie, returned in the back of a truck, clinging on to his bike and wincing at his cuts. Red Cross volunteers were stationed in tents next to most dangerous curves and ambulances stood by to take accident victims to the Roatan hospital, if need be.
After making the hills of West Bay, going into West End and Sandy Bay the cyclist did an about turn and made their way back to The Mayan Princess’ transition area. This year’s running course was changed to include more paved areas around Keyhole Bay and Lighthouse estates.
Back at the finish line, first spotted was Chris Lieto from USA. He took his time crossing, took a dip in the ocean and strolled leisurely past the spectators before crossing the finishing line. Lieto was beaming at the crowd as he drank water and turned to watch second place arrive. “I love to smile”, he said, pouring some cold water over his head, “I always try to enjoy it, if I win or not.”
Next in was Nicolas Becker from France. He was all smiles too, “I should have won. I won last year and should have won this year, but Chris was too strong on the bike. The rest of the race I felt great.” Becker had been out of the water first, lost time on the bike, but made up quite a distance in the run. He stopped to thank race organizer Leslie Poujol Brown. Taking bronze medal for the Elite men was Leonardo Sauced from Mexico.
To no surprise, Swallow was the first of the Olympic women to cross the finish line. Her bike and run times appeared to be almost as fast as her swim and she managed to increase her lead over the rest of the field. The TV crew rushed to her for an interview, but she stepped back. “I don’t know if I’ve won yet, we have to wait and see,” said Swallow.
The officials was still at a loss, citing the power outage as causing the problem in deciding if there had been a foul or not. I took the moment to chat with Jodie. She was in good spirits. She joked about the toughness of the run – “My peddle came off half way around, I had to do most of it with one leg.”
Soon the mood tensed up a little bit as Elite competitor Joanna Zeiger finished. She grasped her chest and was in distress. She had suffered an asthma attack during the run, but had pressed on through. Zeiger had been behind Swallow in the swimming heat and was adamant that Swallow had cut in two buoys early.
“They had told me that it was hilly, but this was insane,” said Zeiger. “I thought it was meant to be hot here. No one told me that it was muddy.” Zeiger was officially awarded first place and Swallow disqualified. Second place was given to Eva Ledisma from Spain and bronze to Mexico’s Adriana Corona.
It was perhaps the local athletes that exemplified some of the finest elements of competition and good spirit of the competition. During lunch the crowd ran out from the restaurant to greet the last finishing athlete. It was Dr. Paul Gale, 34, an Anthony’s Key Doctor who was competing in his fourth Bay Islands Triathlon. Racing in the Olympic distance, he raised his hands as he came to the finish and into the arms of his wife.
“The last time I was in the water was a year ago. The last time I was on a bike was nine months ago. And the last time I run was three weeks ago,” said Gale who’s lack of training put the whole “train at least for six weeks before the race” theory to shame. Gale had major problems in the swim portion of the event and he spent an hour in the Red Cross station to recover some strength. He didn’t give up, finished the bike portion and jogged to the finish line in 7:45 minutes. [/private]
by Thomas Tomczyk & Matt Coats