Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii heats up Kohala Coast

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Springtime along the Kohala Coast means three things: a brighter sun, hotter lava fields, and the convergence of an ever-growing field of triathletes to take part in Ironman 70.3 Hawaii.

Last year, at the race’s fifth anniversary celebration, the water was rough, the roads were melting in the heat and the winds were howling. Apparently, this was just what race participants were looking for. 

With its biggest anticipated field ever, the 2009 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii is set to host more than 1,400 individuals from more than 20 countries Saturday, May 30 for a Hawaiian vacation, triathlon-style.

Leading the field will be 2008 Ironman World Champion, Craig Alexander. Former Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Champion and Ironman 70.3 Hawaii winner Samantha McGlone is also back. Ironman champions Belinda Granger and Luke McKenzie are already in town warming up along the Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

They’ll be joined in coming days by triathletes from every corner of the globe who will roll into town with their own stories to tell, their own reasons to race. 

Among them will be athletes from Operation Rebound, including Oscar Sanchez, the gold medalist in the handcycle time trial during the 2008 Summer Paralympics Games in Beijing.

More than 400 participants hail from the Aloha State. These triathletes will leave their laid-back lifestyles at home as they compete for 20 state of Hawaii and 30 Big Island qualifying slots to the 2009 Ironman World Championship. 

The rest of the age-grouper field will have a chance to compete for 28 additional slots to Kona. 

The race also offers 50 qualifying slots for the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater, Fla.

Competitors will enjoy an ocean swim in the clear, blue waters of Hapuna Bay, and run to T1 through the fine white sand of Hapuna Beach State Park.

The bike course takes place on the “road to Hawi,” a rollercoaster ride along the sparkling Kohala Coast where even the downhill portions of the race have uphills. Heat, humidity and winds are the name of the game on this hard-boiled course surrounded by roiling hills of lava and the wide-open sky.

T2 is on the grounds of The Fairmont Orchid, race partner and host hotel. Competitors will then take on a broiling run course through manicured grounds, along coastal pathways, over award-winning golf fairways, and past petroglyph fields and tidal basins.

The pros

Triathletes are descending upon the Big Island’s sunny leeward coast and trotting out their new rides in preparation for the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii. And, while this family-friendly race offers no prize money and no professional qualifying slots, it has still managed to attract a bevy of top professionals.

In the women’s field, 2007 and 2008 winner Samantha McGlone is scheduled to return to defend her title. 

McGlone was forced to miss last year’s Ironman World Championship due to Achilles tendinosis and has been rehabbing since. Ironman 70.3 Hawaii will be her first race back in 2009.  

McGlone will be racing against Belinda Granger, who is using the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii to test her fitness after surgery on an artery in her stomach. Granger underwent the surgery shortly after her win at Ironman Malaysia in February, and seems to have bounced back quickly. 

She has already spent a week in Kona training with husband, Justin, racing Saturday on his new Ceepo Katana, and fellow Aussies Luke McKenzie and Amanda Balding, the winner of the 2009 Ironman 70.3 China, who is also in town to race this weekend.

The pre-race training camp seems to have agreed with all involved. “It’s such good training,” Granger said. “I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t have the foresight to do this earlier in my career.” 

The biking powerhouse, who loves to race in steamy conditions, says she’s looking forward to wind on the bike and lots of heat throughout the day.

Also in the women’s field is hometown phenom Bree Wee. Wee last raced this course in 2007 as an amateur. 

That year, she finished third behind McGlone and 2006 Ironman World Champion Michellie Jones. 

Wee added Ironman 70.3 Hawaii to her schedule this year after what she felt was a disappointing run in St. Croix Ironman 70.3. 

Wee is looking forward to racing in her own community and she’ll be sure to generate plenty of crowd support along the route.

The men’s field is headed by 2008 Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander. 

Alexander is in town for his first Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, but his 2008 Kona win and his second place in Kona in 2007 speak to Alexander’s ability to take on the Hawaiian conditions. 

Alexander will be racing for the first time since his win at Aviva Ironman 70.3 Singapore in March, and since the birth of his son.

Top among Alexander’s challengers will be Luke McKenzie and Chris Lieto. 

McKenzie will take on the 70.3 course for the third year in a row. He says he keeps coming back because, 

“I love the race, I love the course, I love the town and I like to test myself on the Hawaii course.” said McKenzie, who is spending several weeks in Kona, adding that this is a great time “to do some good hard training on the [Ironman World Championship] course. It’s a bit more relaxing atmosphere compared to the Ironman World Championship.” 

McKenzie, who said his training is coming together at a new level, earlier this year won Ironman Malaysia, came second to 2007 Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack at Ironman 70.3 China and recently set a new course record at the Western Australia 2009 Busselton Half Ironman Triathlon.

Lieto’s biking prowess could give him an edge on the hilly, windy bike course along the road to Hawi – he had the fourth fastest bike time in last year’s Ford Ironman World Championship. 

Lieto will be joining the field after taking sixth place in the 2009 Avia Wildflower Triathlon and recently going head-to-head with McCormack at the 2009 UVAS Triathlon, ultimately finishing in second place.

The talent among the men’s field doesn’t stop there. Hawaii’s own Tim Marr finished 15th in Kona last October, and does most of his training year-round just next door on the island of Oahu. 

The Big Island’s heat and humidity won’t begin to phase the Hawaii native, who’s had some of his best results in some of the sport’s hottest races.

Also in town is Benjamin Sanson, who was first out of the water last year in Kona. 

Sanson might find some swimming competition in John Flanagan III.

Flanagan, a first-year professional from Oahu, turned in the second-fastest swim time for an amateur last fall in Kona and swam away from the entire field in the choppy conditions of last year’s Ironman 70.3 Hawaii.

Chad Seymour, also from Oahu, has been racing here since 2005.

And Big Island triathlete Luis De La Torre will be looking to give the men’s professional field some competition, even though he’s chosen to stay in the amateur ranks. De La Torre was fourth overall at last year’s event and will be using the home field advantage and a powerful run to charge through the course.

2009 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Pros by Last Name

1 ALEXANDER CRAIG M 36 MPRO AUS

9 ELLIOT LEWIS M 29 MPRO USA

7 FLANAGAN III JOHN M 34 MPRO USA

8 GRANGER JUSTIN M 38 MPRO AUS

4 LIETO CHRIS M 37 MPRO USA

3 MARR TIMOTHY M 30 MPRO USA

2 MCKENZIE LUKE M 28 MPRO AUS

6 SANSON BENJAMIN M 38 MPRO FRA

5 SEYMOUR CHAD M 27 MPRO USA

16 SUPLICY CAUE M 31 MPRO USA

12 BALDING AMANDA F 32 WPRO USA

13 FLETCHER CHRISTINE F 36 WPRO CAN

11 GRANGER BELINDA F 39 WPRO AUS

10 MCGLONE SAMANTHA F 30 WPRO USA

14 TINGLE LAURA F 25 WPRO USA

15 WEE BREE F 30 WPRO USA

— Find out more:

Ironman: www.ironman.com

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