The press conference showed the nerves that come with the pressure of being a favorite on many of the top professional’s faces. Belinda Granger was not one of them. Sixth in 2003, Belinda would go almost 40-minutes faster but end up one place farther back (7th) in 9:28:16.
Kona ’05 – Part 2The professional field at the Hawaii Ironman is like no other. There might be 30 to 40 men and women all who have won an international Ironman race over all but when you get to Hawaii, those results mean nothing. The only credentials that carry any weight on the Big Island are those you’ve achieved on the Big Island. What? But you won Ironman Austria and almost broke 8-hours? But you won Ironman Korea…or Lanzarote…or Wisconsin you say – too bad, that means nothing when your treading water in Kailua Bay with a field so deep that many of these past Ironman winners won’t even feature in the top 20. It’s the cruel reality of an event that isn’t just tough due to geography and conditions but because of the pressure each pro feels from the media, sponsors, and their peers. You could have stunk it up all year long but if you have a good race in Hawaii, you’ve had a good year. Likewise, you might have won a race or two and had a pretty good season but stink it up in Kona and you feel like your season was a wash.
An interesting fact in Hawaii is that very few past winners are able to defend their title from one year to the next. 6-time champions, Dave Scott and Natashcha Badmann each have done it three times. The other 6-time men’s winner, Mark Allen, and the 8-time champion, Paula Newby-Fraser, have each done it 4-times. Sylviane Puntous and Tim DeBoom are the only other athletes who have defended a Hawaii Ironman title successfully and each has done it once. That’s 6-athletes in 56 possible races. Peter Reid has been at the height of his powers since 1998 and while he’s won an amazing 3-times, he’s never defended. Considering the fact that he’s won when he’s coming back from a second place finish, many thought this would be his year. Think about it. ’98, he wins. ’99, he’s second. 2000, he wins. He gets a dnf or was it a dns in ’01 but is 2nd in ’02 and, sure enough, he comes back to win in ’03. So, when he ended up 2nd in ’04, the smart money has Peter Reid winning again in ’05. While he challenged for the win, it was last year’s 3rd place finisher, Faris Al Sultan who would end up on top. What? Wait a minute. What happened to Normann Stadler?
What happened to Stadler on the surface was two flat tires. On the first, he had a difficult time getting the sew-up off the rim because some one had glued his tires on so well that he’d be able to ride an 8-turn criterium…bet he either glues his own tires on or supervises the process next year. Remember, always leave a little gap with no glue opposite the valve stem so that, if/when you get a flat, you’ll be able to get it started. So, he loses 5-minutes on the first flat. How does a second flat put you out of the race? Well, if you have no second spare (and I was surprised at how many pros only carry one), you’ll be waiting for the tech vehicle to supply you with a tire and/or a wheel and, late in the race, tech vehicles tend to be in demand and you’ll likely be waiting. Ok, so you wait 10-minutes, 20-minutes, or a half-hour - you still finish, right? Well, if you aren’t making your living at this sport, probably. If, however, you’re livelihood depends on a top ten finish and you’re certain you’re not going to get up there, you might consider bailing out and regrouping for a late season race where you could pick up a check. To many triathletes who spend their lives trying to simply get to the starting line of the Hawaii Ironman, this smacks of disrespect to the event and to every athlete who’s ever been there and fought their way to the finish line.
Many felt that Normann gave up after the 2nd flat. Some even insinuated that he had no flat at all. These folks say that he wasn’t riding through the field like he did last year so he simply pulled the plug. I’m not buying this one at all. Normann Stadler has walked to the finish line with an injury in the past – he’s all about finishing what he starts. What many fail to see (including a first time defending champion) is the amount of time and energy a previous year’s winner must spend dealing with the press and with sponsors. Normann was riding and running as well as he ever has in the month leading up to this year’s event. During the week prior to the race, he was relaxed and ready to go. On Thursday, this seemed to change. Thursday is the day that the favorites among the professional field have to attend the press conference and then the pro-meeting. For last year’s winners, this typically means even more interviews and perceived pressure than others. For a European, this means not only the U.S. press but Austrian television, German television, etc. It might not seem like that big of a deal to you and I but, to someone who’s actually had the kind of day it takes to win this event and now has their immediate future riding on this the results of Saturday, the hoopla that starts on Thursday can make you question not only whether you can really win again but whether you belong there at all. That’s why they’re getting paid, right? Well, whether or not he’d ever acknowledge it, Normann’s demeanor was decidedly different at the end of Thursday than it had been up to that point. Hmmm.
I doubt any professional would argue that they’re paid to deal with the pressure and perform in spite of it. I also doubt that any one who criticizes the decision that a pro (or anyone for that matter), makes to bail out of a race they’ve spent the past 3-months (or more) preparing for knows everything that led to that decision. Yeah, you’re right, everyone should finish – no matter what. Well, if that’s the case then everyone who passes judgment should also have to spend a year paying their bills based on their race results. Ah, it’s fun to armchair quarterback just about any sport and why should triathlon be any different. I’ve always found that I’m a much better athlete in just about every sport when I’m sitting in front of a television or computer monitor. The bottom line is that Hawaii is still part of the United States and therefore, you’re still in a free country. You can do whatever you want. Normann didn’t finish. That’s allowed. Get over it. That he had the running legs to get into the top 5 – even with a 10-minute deficit off the bike means nothing unless he actually does it. He didn’t. He’ll be back next year. Enough already.
So, how much more impressive is the performance of Natascha Badmann? She has not only come back and defended her championship but she did so in distinctly UN-Natascha like fashion. She came off the bike with over 11-minutes to make up on Hawaii rookie, Michellie Jones, and she did exactly that. It’s an incredible feat to win the Hawaii Ironman but to win it more than once and, better yet, to do it two years in a row – when everyone expects you to, is simply amazing. That she defended and tied Mark Allen and Dave Scott with 6-total wins solidifies here already legendary status. When you witness the attention to detail that she and her coach/husband, Tony Hassler, give to her preparation, it all makes sense. The Cheetah she rides was proof of this and we’ll have some photos of this in up coming reports…