Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

2011 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii race preview

(Dawn Henry previews this weekend’s race on the Big Island)

The Rohto Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, scheduled for Saturday, June 4 along the Kohala Coast, is celebrating its eighth annual event and has become the destination race of choice of many triathletes. The 2011 race has registered a field of more than 1,400 athletes, many of them returning to the course with family and friends in order to experience everything this event has to offer.

This race always manages to attract a long roster of talented triathletes while, at the same time, maintaining a laid-back, unassuming vibe. Perhaps it’s the constant proximity of the sparkling, blue Pacific Ocean, or the framing of the race under the awesome volcanic peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Whatever the reason, athletes here are welcome to challenge themselves on the demanding course while maintaining a spirit of friendship and family, creating a true ohana with volunteers, spectators, sponsors and organizers.

The course offers a one-loop swim course in the warm, clear waters of Hapuna Bay. Participants will exit the water and step through the fine white sand of Hapuna Beach State Park to begin their cycling journey on the Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

Racers will continue on an out and back course toward the town of Hawi, playing hide and seek with the Big Island’s notorious winds.

The run course takes place within the bounds of the Mauna Lani Resort, where participants will traipse over coastal pathways and award-winning golf fairways, past historic petroglyph fields and tidal basins.

The finish line and post-race celebration awaits them on the beautiful grounds of The Fairmont Orchid.

Men’s Pro Field

The men’s race this year features cycling powerhouse Chris Lieto. He last competed in Honu in 2009, and came second to Craig Alexander after creating a substantial lead on the bike.

The scenario repeated itself a few months later during the Ironman World Championship, when Lieto came close to cycling to the win, only to have Alexander reel him in over the long, hot miles of the marathon.

2011 brings different associations for Lieto, though, as he prepares to test himself on the Queen Kaahumanu Highway once again. Lieto and his family have spent the last seven months living in Kona, and he says he’s made a lot of friends who he’ll be looking forward to seeing on race day.

“It’s an honor to be a part of the race now after having been a part of the community,” he says.

Lieto pulled out of the Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas two weeks ago a few miles into the run course. He says he had been limited in his training leading up to the race with a sore Achilles tendon and a stomach virus.

He’s looking forward to the challenging run course at Honu with its cart paths and off-road tracks to see how his Achilles is faring. His brother, Matt Lieto, who finished third here last year, will be racing Honu as well and Chris says he’d like to see a “one-two” brother finish.

The Lietos will have to make their way past some other tough competitors to make this race a family affair, though.

Australian Luke Bell, who finished second here last year just 90 seconds back from two-time Ironman World Champion Tim DeBoom, is coming off a strong performance at the Hermann Memorial Ironman Texas, where he finished third in a stacked field. Bell also took second four weeks ago at the St. Croix Ironman 70.3.

Fellow Aussie Paul Ambrose will also be on hand to keep the race competitive. Ambrose won the 2010 Ford Ironman Louisville and recently took sixth on the challenging course at the Ford Ironman St. George.

Hailing from the neighboring island of Oahu, Tim Marr is a perennial top finisher here and capable of exerting pressure throughout the race.

The men’s pro field also includes 2006 Ironman Canada Champion Canadian Jasper Blake, American Ian Mikelson,
Venezuelan Salvatore Cali, Columbian Rodrigo Acevedo and Shinya Suganuma, from Japan.

Women’s Pro Field

The Big Island’s own Bree Wee will once again be toeing the line in the women’s race. Wee finished second last year to Ironman-distance phenom Belinda Granger.

Wee recently took the title in the Olympic-distance Honolulu Triathlon and Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon. Earlier this year, she placed ninth at the inaugural Ironman 70.3 San Juan.

Wee’s career as a triathlete has taken her around the globe and she revels in exploring new places and meeting new people. Participating in hometown races has always meant a lot to Wee.

“I’ve been super fortunate to see a lot of the world,” she says. “My triathlon travels have taken me to amazing places, but there is no place better for a race than at home. No matter where on Earth you live, waking up in your own bed and racing in your back yard is a good place to be.”

Wee will be joined in the pro field by Emma Garrard, Christine Fletcher and Elly Franks.

Garrard, from the United States, ranked fourth in the 2010 XTERRA USA Pro Series and recently finished fifth in the XTERRA Southeast Championships.

A six-time Ironman World Championship competitor, Canadian Christine Fletcher finished fourth last year at the Ironman 70.3 Boise.

Australian Elly Franks, a fast swimmer and biker, last raced the Rohto 70.3 Ironman Hawaii in 2006, when she took first in the W18-24 age group.

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