There were 25-multisports.com athletes in Kona and 7 of them even showed up for the Wednesday morning meeting so that Roch and Huddle answer any last minute questions and/or help make them more nervous. With three days to go, everyone was still smiling!
Kona ’05 – Part 3Tuesday afternoon’s parade marks the start to a week full of events. For athletes, sponsors, media, volunteers, and race organizers, the Hawaii Ironman is in full swing. The parade finishes at the expo where vendors and sponsors have been working feverishly to get ready for the crowds. On Wednesday the expo is open and the pier gets down right chaotic as everyone has pretty much arrived by now. Thursday is busy day for the participants with the athlete meeting, welcome/carbo dinner, and, of course, the Underpants Run. Friday is the day of bike/gear check in and waiting. Athletes are waiting to suffer and spectators (family, friends, locals, etc.) are waiting for a return to normalcy - trying to stay out of their way. On false utterance might unleash a torrent of emotions of any kind so it’s best to just head to one of the “three b’s”, the beach, buffet or bar.
The fun begins on Thursday. Up until now, the race has bee approaching rather slowly. Everyone’s relaxed and enjoying the final short workouts of their tapers. You might have a date with a rectal thermometer and an IV bag on Saturday evening but that’s too far in the future to impact your posing at Dig Me Beach or tall tales at Lava Java. The time between the emotional contractions of relaxed confidence and absolute terror are well spaced out and at this early time in the week, favor the calm positive notion that you’re actually prepared to handle this absurd 140.6-mile tropical excursion under your own power. By Thursday, however, you’re not so sure.
For the professional athletes in the field, Thursday includes a press conference with the handful of pre-race favorites followed by the pro-meeting. Until now, everyone has either seen or heard who among their peers is on the Big Island, who might be ailing, who looks good, who hasn’t been seen, etc. The pro-meeting is the first time, for many of these thoroughbreds, that the reality of this event’s depth of field is revealed. Some are able to maintain a calm self-assured demeanor while others are noticeably agitated. Like any pro-meeting, there are those who simply want to listen to the information on the swim, bike, and run courses and confirm their understanding of the rules and get it over with as quickly as possible.
Like any pro-meeting, there are always questions. All are aimed at clarifying the given information but that doesn’t mean that everyone will have equal patience with these queries. Eyes begin to roll, bodies squirm, heavy sighs all start to permeate the background noise and reaches a peak when Torbjorn Sindballe begins to repeatedly ask head official, Jimmy Riccitello, about the 7-meter drafting rule. The legal distance extends from the front of the lead bike to the front of the rear bike and, for many, especially the Great Dane, this is not far enough. What amounts to 3.5-bike lengths between each bike is way too close for many in the group. As voices get louder, some start to chime in asking Torbjorn to leave it alone – “the rule isn’t going to change for Saturday”. Frustrated but having voiced his protest, Sindballe settles down for the remaining time.
Throughout the hour, Faris Al Sultan seems to be nodding off – can you say relaxed. One could sense that some athletes somehow know that their energy is better saved for race day – not arguing over rules that wouldn’t change at this late hour. Chris McCormack sat as far back as you could on the lava rock wall – well behind the chairs that seated the 100+ professional men and women – and seemed to enjoy the buffer that the extra distance gave him. Athletes who had won other international Ironmnan races around the world seemed decidedly humbled as they looked around wondered if they could crack the top ten in Kona. Looking around the meeting area, it’s a wonder many didn’t just throw in the towel right then and there. But this is Kona. Anything can happen. Your resume’ doesn’t mean a thing when you get to Hawaii. Athletes you don’t hear anything about all year long suddenly appear in the top ten while those who seem to be in the magazines every month won’t crack the top 20 or, perhaps, even finish at all.
Cam Widoff was one who waited until the meeting was over to approach Jimmy and ask the questions he had. Looking relaxed and raring to go I had the opportunity to catch up with this consistent top ten finisher. If there’s such a thing as a “soul triathlete”, Cam Widoff is that person. There only seem to be a couple of races that get this guy excited and Hawaii is at the top of the list. After spending 3-months in Brazil at the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005, Widoff came into the season chomping at the bit. Having finished 7th in 2004, it was surprising that more prognosticators hadn’t picked him to end up somewhere in the top-10 again. After all, Cam has only finished there 6-times since ’97. Idealistic and passionate about his profession, Cam is still doing things his own way. Saturday would be his best finish ever but one wonders if some of his passion for the Hawaii Ironman is waning in the face of what he perceives as disrespect to the professionals who now are only guaranteed a place in next year’s event if they finish in the top-3. It used to be the top-15 until the late 90’s when it was limited to the top 10 and, now, is a perk that only the top 3 will enjoy. If you finish 4th through 10th, your spot is reserved but only if you compete in at least one Ironman event (including the 70.3 series races).
Cam’s argument is that finishing in the top-10 in Hawaii takes a full time commitment during the year followed by a Herculean effort on race day – surely, if you are able to crack the top-10, you should be rewarded with automatic entry into the following year’s event. He went on to explain the economics of making a living as a professional triathlete to back up his complaint. He referenced some of his peers who are married with kids and live in foreign countries, which makes getting to one of the 70.3 races difficult to get to. “It’s not even the money. It’s the principle. I’ve been coming to this race and committing my life to this sport for the last 15-years. It’s a slap in the face.”
To the credit of the World Triathlon Corporation, the prize money available to professionals has done nothing but get better and the opportunities to race and earn prize money has continued to grow as well. The advent of the 70.3 series means that professionals continue to have another opportunity to make their living and pursue a world championship title at another distance. To assist the organizers of these 70.3 series events, requiring the top pros from Hawaii to validate their 2006 Hawaii slot doesn’t seem an inordinate burden when most will do another Ironman and/or couple of half Ironman events anyway. Some, however, like Widoff, don’t want to be held to this requirement and bristle at the very idea.
As all of the concerns of the professional athletes occupied the minds and time of some 150 people, more than twice that number had already given their all and faced more pressure than these pros would ever know. That’s right, we’re talking about the 9th Annual Kona Underpants Run, which took place on Thursday morning. While the pros worried about an event on Saturday that would merely affect their ability to earn a living, there was a challenge out on Alii Drive that over 300 brave souls accepted – running in their underpants in broad daylight. We’ll talk about that next.