Sprinting Towards Beijing
[private] The water of West Bay was calm as a lake. On May 4, the haze created by burning grass and trees all over Central America created a setting for a beautiful sunrise. The sixth Bay Islands International triathlon was about to begin.
Emily McCall, a young red-hair American, stood on the edge of the beach trying to glimpse at the elite triathletes lined-up at the waters edge in West Bay beach. She was cheering for her husband Paul McCall, one of a small group of elite racers.
The lack of wind kept the temperatures high in the days before. Starting the runners at 7:30 am was one way to avoid the oppressive 30-degree Celsius heat that turned up by 9:30am.
Bikini swimsuits, while illegal for elite racers, were popular among the less de-rigueurs sprint amateur athletes. Shoe selection for the biking and running portions called for “oohs” and “aahs” among the spectators. One of the US Air Force runners raced with a broken foot and wearing a pair of military boots. A female sprinter raced in flip-flops as she couldn’t locate her bike shoes.
The athletes’ selection of bicycles was equally impressive. There were $6,000 racing bikes, $700 “fat tire” mountain bikes and a few old models dug out on the island just a few days before the race.
The number of spectators was as not as impressive as in years prior. Many triathletes have already qualified for the Beijing Olympics; and those who hadn’t, didn’t want to risk an injury. It was chiefly moving the event from March to May that contributed to fewer athletes coming to the race. Also the popular international triathlon in Panama moved its date to a week prior the 2008 Bay Islands Triathlon. “It was supposed to be one week after. This hurt us badly with all the pros [not showing up],” wrote Leslie Poujol Brown, director of the Bay Islands Triathlon for the past five years. “We normally get from 25 to 45 elite athletes each year.” This year only 14, 11 men and three women elite athletes participated.
According to Poujol Brown the Bay Islands triathlon changed its time from March to May because of availability of space at Henry Morgan Resort. “Henry Morgan [Resort] is normally extremely busy in March and we thought May being a low month would be better. May turned out to be unusually busy for the entire island and we ended without rooms or athletes,” wrote Poujol Brown.
Also the hosting venue of the event changed. The race moved from Mayan Princess to Henry Morgan, a resort where it had originally begun in 2003. “The transition area which is an empty lot next to the Mayan Princess hotel did not provide us the necessary conditions for an event of this caliber. After 2007 when torrential rain forced us out into the road, convinced us that it would be necessary to make a change to a paved surface,” wrote Poujol Brown.
After 2 hours, 21 minutes and 59 seconds Paul McCall run through the finish gate of the race. “The hills, biking and running were a killer,” said Paul McCall who raced in his second triathlon as an elite racer. He finished in eighth place behind Julio Ballesteros of Costa Rica and seven minutes behind the Elite winner of the race Fel Van De Wyngard of Chile.
The biggest group of the triathletes were Honduran, mainland racers. Honduran National Triathlon Association has around 100 members and according to Jose Antonio Rodriguez, Technical Coordinator of the BI Triathlon, around 30-40 of them participated in the May race. On May 24, “La Ceiba Triathlon,” a national racing event took place. Last time a triathlon took place in La Ceiba was in 1989. With 12 Triathlons planned in Honduras for 2008, and 15 for 2009, however, it is only the Bay Islands Triathlon that is an internationally sanctioned event.
Just as numerous as Honduran competitors was a group of US military personnel who came to Roatan from Soto Cano Air Base. “I have never been cheered on at any other triathlon like I was in Roatan. The spectators were fantastic. There were kids hanging in the trees and young ladies squirting me with refreshing cold water as I ran by,” wrote Soto Cano based Air Force Major, Todd Risk. Major Risk was the coordinator of 31 triathletes from the US Air Force base that prepared for the sport event.
“I know it must have been inconvenient to have the island roads closed for several hours, but we athletes appreciate very much the safe road condition that was provided,” wrote Major Risk.
Twenty Red Cross volunteers helped out in keeping the race safe. “There is a better organization, but fewer spectators and volunteers,” said Cesar Rodas, a Red Cross volunteer who has helped out in the Triathlon for the past three years. “There were no accidents, and we had good volunteers and my only concern was the process that took us there,” wrote Poujol Brown. “We had more problems on the road than in the previous years to the point that it was the most difficult event we have staged in six years.”
Set-Up Inc, a triathlon organizer company who helped to organize and run the technical part of the Bay Islands Race in 2003 and 2004 still has its presence. “Each year we bring some of their [Set-Up Inc.] employees to be part of our staff,” wrote the race director. Set-Up Inc. donated part of the race equipment that is used in the race every year.
At the evening dinner following the race, an award ceremony recognized all the participants and winners of the tough race. The Henry Morgan performance hall was packed with young athletes from around the world and Honduras. “It was the first time we had a formal stage, good sound system, video, sit-down dinner, and a great spread for our dinner,” wrote Poujol Brown.
The fat tire category, for triathletes racing on slower, harder to ride mountain bikes had its fair share of drama. “I decided to celebrate my 55 birthday,” said Ron Bobbette, a retired Canadian living on Roatan. Bobbette downloaded a 10-week training program in order to prepare for his first triathlon. “It was most difficult to prepare psychologically for something you have never done,” said the retired wholesaler. Bobbette received a first prize in the “fat tire” category for triathletes in his age group.
Despite the event becoming a staple of the Roatan spring since 2003, Poujol Brown doesn’t plan to hold the event in 2009 for mostly economic reasons. “We [Bay Islands Triathlon] hope that by making this race every two years we might improve our numbers as well as our sponsorship support. … We hope to be back in 2010. It was way too hard to put this race together this year, and perhaps I need a break, our sponsors, and even the island needs a break,” wrote Poujol Brown, who is focusing her efforts on starting another race in the US. [/private]