CLEARWATER — German Michael Raelert, competing for the second time at the Ironman 70.3 distance, won the World Championship on Saturday, shattering the course record by more than six minutes with a time of 3 hours, 34 minutes, 4 seconds.
"I didn't expect to be so fast," the 29-year-old triathlete said after winning the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run. "When I got off (on) the run, I felt a little wobbly. But as the race went on, the better I felt."
Race organizers said more than 10,000 people turned out to watch the Ironman 70.3 series season-ending event, which drew more than 1,500 competitors from 57 countries.
Raelert, whose older brother Andreas finished second last year, said he had hoped just to finish in the top 10.
"These are the best triathletes in the world," said Raelert, who had a 5-minute, 16-second-mile pace on the run. "On the bike, I had to fight not to be left behind. On the run, I hoped I just didn't cramp up."
Friday night, race officials moved the swim from the Gulf of Mexico to the sheltered waters of Clearwater Harbor. Estonia's Marko Albert was the first man out of the water with a time of 21:59. But Albert didn't hold on to his lead very long; Colorado's Brian Fleischman emerged from the transition area into the bike leg first. But by Mile Marker 10, the lead had switched again when Illinois native Andrew Starykowicz took off in front.
"It was hard to make any headway on the bike," said 2008 U.S. Olympic team member Matty Reed, 34, whose third-place finish (3:37:50) also broke the course record. "We were in a big pack; it was hard to break away."
The lead switched several more times during the bike ride, with defending champion Terenzo Bozzone of New Zealand briefly moving in front at the 40-mile mark.
But Bozzone, 24, couldn't hold it. He said he still hasn't recovered from last month's Ironman in Kona, Hawaii.
"Deep down I could still feel it in my legs," he said. "This sport is hard."
Starykowicz led into the second transition, but the 6-foot-4 Reed emerged first and hit the road running at a fast pace. But 2 miles into the third leg, Raelert made his move.
"I couldn't believe it when I ran past Matty Reed," Raelert said. "I kept saying to myself, 'Now what do I do?' "
Raelert went on to run a sizzling 69-minute half-marathon, finishing 2:40 ahead of Daniel Fontana of Milan. Fontana, 33, was a member of the Italian Olympic team in 2008 and Argentina's Olympic Team in 2004. "Michael was just too fast," Fontana said. "I made a push but couldn't keep up."
Julie Dibens, a 34-year-old native of Great Britain who lives in Colorado, also made history by becoming the first woman to break four hours in a 70.3 race.
Dibens finished with a time of 3:59:33, more than four minutes ahead of her nearest competitor.
"I knew I had a good lead," she said. "But I didn't want to give up until I crossed the finish line."
Amanda Stevens and Sarah Groff, both of Colorado Springs, were the first women out of the water, one second apart. But by the end of the bike, Dibens had a 2:52 lead, which she was able to build on during the run.
"At that point you are just racing against yourself, just doing the best you can, hoping not to blow up," said runnerup Mary Beth Ellis, 32, of Boulder, Col. She finished in 4:03:49.
Joanna Zeiger, last year's winner, was in great shape heading into the bike, but 40 miles into the race she crashed at an aid station. She was transported to a hospital, where she had X-rays.
Results weren't available.