Where's my bike?! With over 5000 bikes in the transition, there were a lot of helium balloons in use to identify individual transition spaces - unfortunately we saw a lot of the SAME kind . . . DOH!
Mrs. T's Chicago Triathlon 2001 - Day of DominanceIf you're a professional triathlete who's more interested in earning a paycheck than earning points, the Mrs. T's Chicago Triathlon is a must stop in your season. In addition to boasting the largest number of participants in the world, the Chicago event traditionally sports one of the deepest professional fields and is, perhaps, the best one-day media opportunity in the sport - win this race and chances are your family on either coast will hear about it, not to mention your sponsors.
This year that depth of talent was diluted by the proximity of the Goodwill Games Triathlon and an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among the professionals with a perceived lack of support from the race organization. Rumor had it that Chris McCormack, last year's winner and arguably the hottest male at the distance right now was boycotting the event. Spencer Smith is in the middle of Ironman Hawaii preparation and is opting for the more local L.A. Triathlon while Richard Allen is probably off doing some ITU event or preparing for the Goodwill Games.
Entry fees, air tickets, and accommodation are the primary expenses for a professional (not to mention an age-grouper) and, with limited prize money (compared to say, golf), these necessities take a big percentage of each athlete's expenses and, hence, ability to make a viable living. Many races assist their top professional entrants with one, two, or a combination of these expenses and, sometimes, if the athlete is judged to have the necessary "star power", even pay an appearance fee or guarantee, say, third place prize money regardless of their result. Chicago offers a home-stay (locals put athletes up at their homes) program for accommodation and awards air tickets to the top five men and women but, for some of the top pros, the risk of losing the amount of greenbacks that a big city race incurs is too great with no way of guaranteeing that they'll at least cover their expenses. Better to do a smaller event close to home with less competition or use their national federation money to get to one of the craps shoots known as ITU World Cup races.
With amateur entrants bursting the race's capacity at the seams, one wonders why an event organization would even care about a professional field. With a television show (sponsor's dollars) at stake and the prestige of having Olympic and world champions present, there is a value to having the best athletes come to one's event but you get the feeling that some organizers view the pro's as nothing more than and expensive side show. The stories of "professionals" who blow it in one way or another have soured many a race director from wanting to go the extra mile. Others will tolerate unprofessional behavior as a necessary evil of dealing with this category of athlete. Some of the transgressions include (but are not limited to):
- Trying to enter an event in the final week before (or day before) which leaves the event no time to capitalize on pre-race promotion abound.
- Not participating in pre-race expo activities (which help promote the sport on a grass roots level).
- Not attending the pro meeting and then whining about getting disqualified for an infraction covered at the meeting.
- Not showing up for scheduled media interviews on time or, sometimes, at all.
- Leaving a trail of unpaid international phone calls, food bills, borrowed car damage, etc. at a home stay program.
- Not showing up for award ceremonies.
- Etc., etc. etc.
It's a two way street that professionals and race organizers need to some how come together on so that the potential for such a mutually beneficial relationship can be maximized. The pros need to get organized and behave in a professional manner if they want to be treated as they desire and the organizers need to realize the benefits that such a relationship can bring to their event.
Why am I babbling on about this in light of the fact that this is supposed to be about the Mrs. T's Chicago Triathlon? I had way too many professionals coming up to me after the race asking if I knew anyone who might be interested in sponsoring them and I saw a race that was well run and well attended in one of the best cities on the continent but had a professional field that wasn't as deep as it should have been. Who cares? Maybe nobody.
After the swim portion of both the men's and women's races, it was a display of dominance by eventual winners, Conrad Stoltz and Joanna Zeiger. As expected, Australian, Matthew Clark led the men out of the water but on his heels was a line of 12 to 14 other men including the major players. Greg Bennett, Marc Lees, Kerry Clausen, and Kenny "The Flame" Glah were all in this lead group. Stoltz exited transition second behind Bennett and quickly assumed a lead he wouldn't relinquish for the rest of the day. He finished a minute ahead of the Aussie, Bennett who was followed by countryman, Mark Lees. The best story of the men's race (besides seeing the smiling South African win) was watching the veteran, Glah, come off the bike in a commanding second place only to fall to fourth during the run. As Scott Tinley commented to me on the phone upon hearing about Kenny's performance, "Kenny wins. That guy was there when we all were starting out and he's still there and he's still competitive. He outlasted, Mark (Allen), Dave (Scott), and Molina. Good for him."
On the women's side, Zeiger swim shoulder to shoulder with Becky Gibbs and Susie Stark for the entire swim. It was bizarre to watch because you kept wondering why someone wasn't content to just get behind and draft their way through and save some additional energy for the bike and run. No matter, the three leaders came out of the water with a 20-second cushion on the Olympic silver medallist, Michellie Jones, who, with seven Chicago titles to her name, had to be considered the overwhelming favorite. Once on the bike, Zeiger banished that sentiment from everyone's mind by putting another 1:20 into the determined Australian. Coming off a close second place at Ironman USA only 4-weeks ago and with Hawaii looming 6-weeks in the distance, everyone was amazed Joanna's performance as she continued to build her lead during the run. She must have been amazed herself as she was third behind Jones and Siri Lindley at the ITU World Championships. At the finish, she had a 2:40 margin over one of the best international distance athletes of all time. God help the women in Kona if this keeps up! In reference to Zeiger's performance, Michellie summed it up well after the race by saying something along the lines of, "Maybe I should just train for an Ironman but don't actually do the race." Establishing herself as a consistent threat at the international distance, Becky Gibbs held on to third place.
After wrapping up the post-race interviews with Conrad and Joanna, Heather and I high tailed it for the hotel and another exciting ride on the Airport Express back to Ohare - thankfully, we were disappointed this time around and simply fell asleep.
1. Conrad Stoltz (South Africa) 1:48:21
2. Greg Bennett (Australia) 1:49:21
3. Marc Lees (Australia) 1:50:26
4. Ken "The Flame" Glah (US) 1:50:57
5. Kerry Classen (US) 1:51:13
8. Mike Pigg (US) 1:53:45
1. Joanna Zeiger (US) 1:59:54
2. Michellie Jones (Australia) 2:02:34
3. Becky Gibbs (US) 2:03:59
4. Gina Kehr (US) 2:04:53
5. Mary Ellen Powers (US) 2:08:28
8. Susie Stark (US) 2:12:38