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MSSC coach Paul Huddle reporting from Kona for the Ironman World Triathlon Championships 1998

10/3/98, 00:36 PDT
Mechanical Nighmare on Alii Dr., Part 20
Dateline: Kailua-Kona, HI USA

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Jurgen Zack
Jurgen Zack was one of many athletes with last minute bike problems in the hours prior to bike check-in today. Paula Newby-Fraser had a scare with a stripped stem bolt, Chris Legh got his bike in with minutes to spare due to shifting problems, and Zack's Cranks decided to off-set on this, the day before his biggest race of the year. With the assistance of Stuart Newby-Fraser, Craig Calfey, and the good folks at Hawaiian Pedals, all were checked in with perfect machines by the 6 p.m. cut-off.

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10/3/98, 00:24 PDT
No Speedos Please! Jean Moureau Goes Against The Grain
Dateline: Kailua-Kona, HI USA

Muscles from Brussels: Belgian, Jean Moureau, forgets his manners and cruises Alii Drive in his euro-finest . . . yikes. This is a more common sight than the locals would like but, I suppose, it wouldn't be hawaii without the euros in their underpants.

10/3/98, 00:17 PDT
Thursday Morning Swim
Dateline: Kailua-Kona, HI USA

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Heather Fuhr getting ready to get wet on Thursday morning before Saturday's race. Always a smile!

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Paula Newby-Fraser prior to the easy swim on Thursday morning . . . Wake up!

10/3/98, 00:10 PDT
Press Conference and the Day Before
Dateline: Kailua-Kona, HI, USA

October 1 & 2, 1998

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The finish line on Alii Drive at 1 p.m. on Oct. 2nd.
Thursday is probably the busiest day in the week before the race. Throughout the day, competitors must finish up any last minute preparation, get their race transition bags turned in by 5 p.m. (don't think about being late) and then, get ready for the carbo-load dinner. For the professionals, it's a busy day as well. Most will put in time at the race expo for their respective sponsors, attend the pro-meeting at 1 p.m. and then the press conference at 3 p.m. All of that, a little training and, hopefully, a moment or two to put their feet up makes what they do that much tougher (but, I guess, that's why their pros, right?).

The pro-meeting was the usual review of rules and warnings that drafting and drugs (the two D's) would not be tolerated. Nothing earth shattering here but swim director, Jan War, did comment that they would NOT be using air horns to mark the final five minutes prior to the cannon (genius). Last year when the 3-short blasts were sounded to remind the participants of the impending start, the pros took off at the sound of the first blast. In an amazing show of control, announcer Mike Reilly, got the water patrol to stop the errant starters and get them back to the line for a fair start. This year, there will only be the waiving of the red warning flags to signal competitors to be ready for the cannon. The usual complaints were aired about the drafting rules and the problems that the female pros face with ego driven age-group males. Since you only have 15 seconds to get your front wheel ahead of the cyclist you're passing, Wendy Ingraham brought up the problem of male age-group athletes who accelerate when they realize they're being passed by a "woman". It may not appear to be a huge deal but when you have 15 seconds to go from 7-meters behind another cyclist who's moving at 22-25 mph, you have to be moving significantly faster. Hopefully, the rash of drafting calls of ‘96 won't be repeated. As always, the marshals in Kona are among the best in the world and, thankfully, aren't afraid to pull ANYONE over. As Jurgen Zack says, "This is one reason I like to race in Hawaii so much. I know it will be a fair race."

The press conference had the following athletes in attendance: Thomas Hellriegel, Heather Fuhr, Jurgen Zack, Paula Newby-Fraser, Luc Van Lierde, Sian Welch, Peter Reid, Lori Bowden, Chris Legh, Wendy Ingraham, and Christian Bustos. Notably absent were last year's third place man, Lothar Leder and the women's runner-up in ‘96, Natascha Badmann.

Among the comments:

Luc - Asked about his season and how it unfolded in his decision to come to Hawaii: "I decided that I could prepare properly a week after an Olympic distance event in Koblenz, Germany. I had surger for bursitis in my big toe early in the year and, in the process of coming back from this, got a stress fracture in my femur. This took a long time to recover from. On August 15th, I began serious preparation for Hawaii. I had a good race at the Long Course World Championships in Japan (he won by 8 minutes) and have had good preparation leading to Hawaii." I got to interview Luc after the pro meeting and asked him if he felt his preparation for this years race was as good or better than in ‘96 when he set the course record as a rookie. He said, "Yes. After worlds in Japan, Didier (his coach) and I came to San Diego. My preparation has gone very well and I feel in better shape than I was in ‘96." I then reiterated a question by Bob Babbit from the press conference by asking about his visit with the King of Belgium after his ‘96 victory. I told him that we didn't get much of a chance to celebrate with him in ‘96 and asked if we might get the chance to tip a couple of beers with him this year. He said, "In 1996 I didn't expect to have a chance to win so I didn't plan to stay after the race. This year, I plan on winning but regardless of how I do, I will tip MORE than a couple of beers with you."

Lori Bowden - A question was asked about the difference between her training strategies last year (when I-man Canada was 8-weeks before Hawaii) and this year (She just won IMC 4 ½ weeks ago). Also, she was asked why she ran so hard on a hot day in Canada when she didn't need to (she had the race in the bag) and could save a little for Hawaii. Lori responded saying that she did the bulk of her work for Ironman Hawaii prior to Canada. This allowed her to treat IMC as a "long training day" and then finish up her recovery and a taper into Hawaii. Regarding her blazing run split in Canada, she said "I wasn't running hard . . . the guys were just running slow!" Lori looks determined to prove a lot of people wrong who think she raced too close to Hawaii this year.

Thomas Hellriegel - Was asked how this race would be different than years past with the addition of such an unknown as Spencer Smith. He responded that Spencer definitely would change the dynamics of the race. He said that because Spencer is a good swimmer, he could provide an added boost to Luc's ride at the front. He did make the point that although Spencer is a 3-time world champion at the Olympic distance and he has a great deal of respect for him, it is Spencer's FIRST Hawaiian Ironman and his experience is lacking in a race that seems to require experience to win . . . except, of course, in the case of Luc. Thomas was then asked about his strategy last year in that he allowed Jurgen to ride away in the latter stages of the bike only to reel him in during the run as he went on to his first victory. He said, "This year will be different. Luc is a very good runner (Luc ran a 2:38 in the ‘97 Ironman Germany to run away from the Germans passing Jurgen Zack in the final 2 miles) and I won't let him ride away. It's hard to say. This year will be very competitive. In answering a question about his cycling, Thomas said quite honestly (and in his best deep, German monotone), "I am so strong." The room erupted in hysterical laughter. Excellent.

Jurgen Zack - Questioned about his ability to run sub 3 hours (something he's never done in Hawaii - actually, he barely squeeked under once). He said, "I know I can do better than I've done in the past. I ran 2:48 in Germany and am looking to run a P.R. for my Hawaii Ironman marathon this year." Asked if he thought a course record was possible this year, he said, "Yes it's always possible but conditions will dictate whether this is so." When asked how he'd like to see the day go he responded, "I'm praying for wind. I'd like to be at the front all day and have no one pass me until the finish line."

Paula Newby-Fraser - Asked if this 20th anniversary of the event holds special significance for her and will it be her last. She said, "The whole week has been very special. I've had the opportunity to get together with the Puntous twins, Linda Buchanan, Scott Molina and many others. It's been a great opportunity to reflect on my history here and get back in touch with the roots of the sport. Seeing that Scott Molina and Scott Tinley will be racked together (#'s 29 & 30) makes me very happy - for some reason." Regarding whether it will be her last, "I was asked that question at a very inopportune time last year (she had a camera in her face when she dropped out of the ‘97 race at the ½-marathon point in the run) and won't make the mistake of saying ‘never' again."
Peter Reid - Asked how he felt about all the talk being about the Europeans so far and with the North American dominance no longer there, what does he have to do to get back in the race. He said, "For the first time in the history of my training I've had a training partner. He also happens to be a North American (Peter has been training in Boulder, CO with Tim DeBoom). We have talked about what it will take and helped each other out when one of us was tired and having a hard time getting out the door." Peter was also asked about the fact that he felt he didn't race enough coming into last year's race. This year, it hasn't appeared that he'd raced significantly more. He said that his schedule in the middle and latter part of the season was dictated by his health. He began training in January but during April and May wasn't responding and recovering from the workload. Diagnosed as being anemic, he took the steps necessary to correct his iron levels and get back on track. Peter won the closest ironman race since Mark & Dave's epic battle (Iron War in 1989) against Chris Legh in April of this year. He was second to Cameron Widoff at the Wildflower ½-ironman in May but then had to take some down time to allow his iron levels to return to normal. He was then asked how he felt training at altitude had helped him to which he replied, "I'll let you know on Saturday evening."

Wendy Ingraham - When asked about her injuries and how she was feeling coming into this year's race, she said that it's been a tough year with accidents. She recently injured her foot while shooting a commercial and remarked that she was "very rested for running. My foot is at about 80% right now." Regarding last years diaper dash with Sian Welch at the finish line she said, "Hopefully, this time will be a replay of last year – without the falling down at the end part. I lost my salt tablets last year so this time I'll be carrying a lot." She was also asked about the Canadian invasion and whether she feels any sense of nationalism when she races. To this, Ingraham replied, "No. I've never really thought of it in those terms. I love the competition and the people I get to meet as I travel around in this sport. I think it's great to race against good competition from other nationalities and not just Americans."

Sian Welch - Asked about how she felt working with Mark Allen has helped her preparation this year she said, "It's been very inspirational to train with Mark's program this year. Just to know that I'm doing workouts he did makes me more confident. He has helped a lot with the psychological side of things which is where I feel like he was so strong."

Chris Legh - When asked about his game plan he said, "I've had a some great races this year and a really good lead up to this race. Good preparation is always a good marker for me and the work I've done with Mark Allen has really helped me on the psychological level as well. It's been a big help to be able to talk to Mark every other day and to train and talk with Greg (Welch). This is my 3rd attempt and I haven't even finished the race yet but based on my preparation, I think I'll have a good day.

Someone asked the whole group if there was someone we hadn't heard of who might come out of the woodwork. Paula mentioned Martha Sorensen who finished 6th last year in her rookie performance. Wendy mentioned Sue Latshaw and Jurgen Zack mentioned Susannne Nielsen who will be attempting the Hawaii course for the first time (she won the ‘98 Ironman in New Zealand.
So, there it is. Now, how ‘bout I went out on a limb. After all, what good is a prediction made on Saturday afternoon? In the men's race Luc Van Lierde has to be the favorite. Close on his heels will be Chris Legh and Thomas Hellriegel (and, in the back of my mind, Spencer Smith). What about the Germans? Hellriegel looks a bit thin (physically) but has been racing well recently. He's the defending champion and you can't base his performance on Germany where the weather was cold (he hates cold weather). Jurgen will push the bike (he makes no mystery of that fact) but will it be enough against the field assembled. Lothar Leder (3rd last year) is on form and, perhaps among the few men who can crack 2:50 in the marathon. Peter Reid is due. He's won Australia twice now and has the maturity and experience to do it. The question is whether he's overcome an anemia problem earlier in the year. Among the Americans, Tony DeBoom served notice at Mrs. T's in Chicago and again at the World Long Course Championships in Japan where he finished a very tough 4th (Luc won). His brother Tim is in fantastic shape (6th in Chicago with a penalty for blocking) having spent the last two months training in Boulder with Peter Reid. Cameron Widoff is looking to improve his top American placing of 6th last year. The whole family is here and his preparation has been flawless. If he can keep the Euros in sight, he'll be a threat. If there is one rule of thumb in Hawaii, it's the fact that you can't count out those who've proven themselves in years past. Aside from Luc Van Lierde and Natascha Badmann, rookie performances aren't usually rewarded with top five finishes. Considering this, you can't overlook Jean Moureau (twice 8th and 12th last year), Christian Bustos (5th in ‘97), Kenny Glah (7th in ‘97), Holger Lorenz (8th in ‘97), Alexander Taubert (9th in ‘97), Rene Rovera (13th in ‘97), Pierre Alain Frossard (14th in ‘97), and Matthias Klumpp (15th in ‘97). If you don't believe me check out how many of these names appear in the top 15 again this year. Others: Andreas Niedrig, Juergen Haubner, Wolfgang Dittrich (at the front out of the water), Tobias Behle, and Rainer Muller-Horner (remember this German from 1995?). Who else? Peter Sandvang, Scott Tinley (never count out a legend), Peter Kropko (definite top ten contender if he's on), and Joachim Weinbrenner (3rd at I-man Canada). One name you may see at the front during the bike ride is Matthew Belfield from England. This guy led I-man Lanzarote all day, only to end up 2nd during the run. Strong cyclist!

1. Luc Van Lierde
2. Chris Legh
3. Thomas Hellreigel
4. Peter Ried
5. Cameron Widoff
5. Lothar Leder
6. Spencer Smith
7. Jurgen Zack
8. Tim DeBoom
9. Christian Bustos
10. Rainer Muller-Horner
11. Jean Moureau
12. Pierre Alain Frossard
13. Holger Lorenz
14. Andreas Niedrig
15. Brent Imonen

Ok, I don't even like listing a prediction. It's impossible to put that many talented athletes in the top 15 (let alone the top 10) but there it is. Basically, after #'s 1-3, you could put the remaining 10 to 20 athletes anywhere in the next top 12 positions (maybe in the remaining top 14!)

Women? Now you're really asking a lot. This year's women's race will be the race the Ironman Corporation was hoping for in ‘97. It will be another Paula and Natascha duel with Heather Fuhr chasing the two on the run. Susanne Nielsen is an unknown quantity in the heat of the Big Island but is being mentioned by a lot of knowledgeable people. Some names that haven't come up over the past week are Martha Sorensen and Joanna Zeiger. Both of these women has phenomenal rookie performances in ‘97 (7th & 10th respectively) and Zeiger just won one of the biggest media Olympic distance races in taking Mrs. T's in late August. Other obvious contenders for 4th through 15th are: Wendy Ingraham (one of the most consistent ironman performers in recent history - but on hard times with her health), Sian Welch (Sian is one of my picks for a definite top 5 with the potential to pull of a win), Lori Bowden (Canada was too close - but she still claims it fit in with her preparation), Fernanda Keller (hardly mentioned but, based on her results over the last ten years, you can't count her out), Katja Schumacher (‘98 German Ironman Champion), Sue Latshaw (2nd at the ‘98 German Ironman but hasn't had her best Hawaii . . . yet), Lauren Maule (good early season but haven't heard from her recently . . . maybe because she's been preparing for Hawaii), Marci Mauro (4th at I-man Switzerland but has the experience now), Ute Muekel (awesome swimmer who gets better each year - has trouble in the heat?), Ines Estedt, Melissa Spooner (gaining a healthy dose of respect from the other women after a strong 2nd at Wildflower and a win at Ironman Lanzarote - healthy and psyched!), Terry Martin (experienced and back after a bit of a lay off), Lee DiPietro (rumored to be in fantastic shape and ready to rock), and Bettina Ernst (very tough all around athlete with a great attitude). In all likely hood, I've forgotten someone but no one's perfect, right?

So, here's my picks (officially worthless as of 4 p.m. on October 3rd):

1. Paula Newby-Fraser (what did you expect - but I truly believe it, I've seen the past 8 weeks)
2. Natascha Badmann (not nearly the pressure of ‘97 and she's been working on her weaknesses)
3. Heather Fuhr
4. Sian Welch
5. Martha Sorensen
6. Fernanda Keller
7. Lori Bowden
8. Susanne Nielsen
9. Joanna Zeiger
10.Marci Mauro
11. Katja Schumacher
12. Melissa Spooner
13. Sue Latshaw
14. Lee Dipietro
15. Terry Martin
Again, at the risk of offending some friends in the above list, you can't put everyone in the top 2-3 spots. Any of the above could move up or down depending on being "on" or having a bad day.

10/2/98, 23:57 PDT
Parade, etc.
Dateline: Kailua-Kona, HI USA

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Heather Fuhr on a Saucony ad. banner in town with the caption, "Lava Fields, Schmava Fields". I hope Pele can't read!
I don't know how this didn't get posted a couple of days ago but I finally got a chance to check the page prior to posting and found that it never got up . . . here it is.

September 29-30, 1998

Tuesday's highlight is the Ironman Parade of Nations where you'll not only get the opportunity to see past winners but competitors, as well, walk along with their respective countries (and in the case of the U.S., states get some separation as well). Bob Babbit, publisher of Competitor Magazine, is always present with a new version of the "Kona Heads" (they usually follow France) and some of the local organizations associated with the race make some pretty elaborate floats.

Word on the street was of a minor debate unfolding within the officiating side of the race. It seems that many of the top athletes this year will be sporting hydrodynamic fabrics and new designs for their swim attire. Among the designs was said to be a full body suit made of a "high tech fabric" which was actually rumored to be neoprene (but it's only 1-mil). Sounds like a wetsuit to this tri-geek. In the end, it seems that the full body suit was thrown out and "anything that officials hadn't seen" needed to be submitted for approval. It looks like the tri-suit length outfits (such as Speedo's Aquablade) will not be a problem but fins and pull-buoys are still a no-no (darn!).

A question from Dr. Wade Blomgren, purveyor of triathlon in San Diego County and points beyond, asks:

Where do you guys watch the race from, a media center with a video feed, refrigerator, etc, or do you go out on the course in vehicles, or a little of both?

Roch (Frey) usually gets out on the course in a car during the bike leg. While traffic on the course is tightly controlled (you don't EVEN want to try to sweet talk a big Hawaiian police officer), there are ways you can get to different points on the bike course and watch the race progress. It helps to know the "high road" and which turn offs will get you to the Waikaloa and/or the turn to Kawaihai (33-mile mark on the way out and 71-mile mark on the way back). Roch is noted for his Jeff Gordon-like approach to driving on race day and can usually get to see a large part of the race first hand.

During the run (and, actually, the whole race), most spectators hover close to town (swim to bike transition and finish-line) because, within a square ½-mile, you can see the cyclists coming back through on their way to the Kona Surf Hotel's bike to run transition and follow the runners on their way out of town. The "hot corner", where cyclists come down Hualalai Rd. and take a left turn on to Alii Dr. is a popular vantage point. Since it's a down hill turn and there's an announcer to inform the crowd of who is going by, it usually attracts a huge crowd of spectators who's roar incites the athletes to take the turn at warp factor 9 (the majority of the crowd is probably made up of NASCAR fans). During the marathon, this corner is at approximately the 7-mile mark (it used to be the Timex run prime line -- worth $1000 to the first person across it) providing and early glimpse of how the race is developing.

From that point on, one has to decide if they want to sit in the bleachers at the finish line or have a bit more freedom to move around and simply see the athletes as the approach the final chute approximately 400 to 600 meters from the finish. If you want a bleacher spot, you'd better get your space early and pack a lunch (and some sun screen).

As the past 3 years, I'll be doing live color commentary for the local NBC affiliate. This entails sitting in the shade (usually), drinking ice-cold drinks, eating the occasional piece of papaya, and commenting on the live feed we get from the NBC cameras. It's the ultimate tri-geek job. Sit around for 9-hours watching the best live triathlon in the world and even getting to throw your two cents in (not that anyone cares what you have to say). Dan Cook, the Hawaii NBC news anchorman, provides the professionalism (he's amazing - all the more so when you know what he faces in a live show) and I'm the geek next to him. It's a beautiful thing. The first two years I did this with Mike Pigg, last year with Karen Smyers, and this year with both Karen and Greg Welch. Should be a fun day.

Ok, I'm getting behind in my current reporting (and there's a lot to report on - the press conference today, the carbo-load dinner this evening, and the, now infamous, underpants run through the center of town).



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