Half Ironman is the 'hot new thing' in the sport of triathlon

When St. Petersburg's Brian Harrington, a board member of USA Triathlon, heard that an Ironman World Championship 70.3 would be held in Clearwater, he knew it would not take long for the half Ironman to become one of the most competitive triathlons in the world.

"As far as triathlons go, this is the hot new thing," said Harrington, who has been part of the local swim, bike and run scene for 30 years. "A half Ironman is a challenge, yet unlike a full Ironman … you don't have to put your life on hold to train for it."

The half Ironman — 70.3 refers to the combined distances of the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run legs — has been around since the early 1980s. But three years ago, Tarpon Spring-based World Triathlon Corp. decided to market a series of 70.3 events under its trademark Ironman name and hold a world championship at Clearwater.

"When we first came out with it three years ago, we had our skeptics," said Steve Meckfessel, Ironman 70.3 events director. "It was our first race, and we were calling it the world championship."

But Meckfessel, who ran St. Petersburg's St. Anthony's Triathlon for seven years, knew the format would appeal to triathletes who had mastered the Olympic distances but did not want to pursue a full Ironman, such as the one held each October in Kona, Hawaii.

"In 2006, we held 16 70.3 events around the world, all in destination locations," he said. "By 2007 that number had grown to 22. This year we had 30."

Bev Bussye, 51, from St. Petersburg who has participated in more than 200 triathlons since 1983, said the half Ironman appeals to working triathletes.

"It is still very competitive. … The swim and bike are a little longer than the Olympic distance, so you end up pushing yourself," she said. "But the race is still not so long that you have to quit your job to train for it."

Triathlon distances usually are broken down into four categories. The most common is the sprint (0.25-mile swim, 12-mile bike, 3.1-mile run), favored by most weekend warriors. The Olympic distance (0.93-mile swim, 24.7-mile bike, 13.1-mile run) is the choice of many professionals. The Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run), is considered the ultimate in endurance athletics. The 70.3 is gaining in popularity because it takes less of a toll on the body.

"Training for a full Ironman, it is real easy to run yourself into the ground," said Lewis Bennett, a local triathletes coach. "The half is still a tough race, because people tend to push themselves a little harder in the swim and bike and then have to run during the hottest part of the day, but the challenges are not insurmountable."

Rue Morgan, a founder of St. Petersburg's Mad Dogs triathlon club, said at least 30 members of his organization will be among the 1,800 competing Saturday.

"This is a big-money race with some very fast people," said Morgan, who has completed the Ironman World Championship in Kona. "There are other 70.3s, but that Ironman name means that everything is done first class."

Meckfessel said some triathlons pay out more cash (the 70.3 world championship has a $100,000 purse, with $18,000 each going to the first man and first woman), but the world's best don't come to Clearwater for the money.

"It is a prestige thing," he said. "If this is your career, you want to be able to say that you have won the world championship."

He expects next year's event to be more competitive.

"As we add more qualifiers to the schedule, this race is going to be harder and harder to get into," he said. "This is going to become the race."

Andy Potts: Last year's 70.3 world champion; United States' top finisher at this year's Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii; two-time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year.

Oscar Galindez: Argentina native; competed in 2000 Sydney Olympic; six-time South American champion; at last year's 70.3 world championship, had fastest bike split and raced neck and neck with Potts on the run, finishing second by four seconds.

Terenzo Bozzone: New Zealand native won the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Boise Triathlon. Ranked among the top 10 at the 2006 and '07 Ford Ironman World Championship 70.3.

Mirinda Carfrae: The Australian, the reigning world champion, is a two-time silver medalist at the under-23 ITU World Championships and a silver medalist in the 2005 ITU World Long-Course Championships.

Leanda Cave: A multiple ITU World Champion, winning the World Championships in 2002 and Long-Course World Championships in 2007. Finished the 2006 Ford Ironman World Championship 70.3 in fourth.

Julie Dibens: The England native took first at the Ironman 70.3 Switzerland and second at the Ironman 70.3 UK this year.

Source: www.ironman.com

>>fast facts

Ironman World Championship 70.3

When/where: 6:45 a.m. Saturday, Clearwater Beach. Starts and finishes at Pier 60.

Distance: 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run

Who: 1,800 U.S. and international competitors. All earned a spot in this event in one of 29 global qualifying races.

Information: www.ironman.com/worldchampionship70.3

Top 3 men

Andy Potts: Last year's 70.3 world champion; United States' top finisher at this year's Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii (fourth overall); two-time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year.

Oscar Galindez: Argentina native; competed in 2000 Sydney Olympic; six-time South American champion; at last year's 70.3 world championship, had fastest bike split and raced neck and neck with Potts on the run, finishing second by four seconds.

Terenzo Bozzone: New Zealand native; won inaugural Ironman 70.3 Boise Triathlon this year; ranked in the top 10 at the 2006 and '07 Ironman World Championship 70.3.

Top 3 women

Mirinda Carfrae: Australian won last year's 70.3 world championship; two-time silver medalist at the under-23 International Triathlon Union World Championships; silver medalist in 2005 ITU World Long-Course Championships.

Leanda Cave: Briton is multiple ITU world champion, winning the 2002 ITU World Championships and 2007 ITU Long Distance World Championships; third in last year's 70.3 world championship.

Julie Dibens: Briton took first at the Ironman Switzerland 70.3 and second at the Ironman UK 70.3 this year.

Source: www.ironman.com

Half Ironman is the 'hot new thing' in the sport of triathlon 11/05/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 9, 2008 11:25am]

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