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Pair of first-time St. Anthony’s Triathlon competitors take titles

Matthew Sharpe wins his first race since 2011; Paula Findlay claims her second race in a year.
Many competitors took a moment at sunrise Sunday in the water to mentally prepare before competing in the 39th St. Anthony's Triathlon in St. Petersburg.
Many competitors took a moment at sunrise Sunday in the water to mentally prepare before competing in the 39th St. Anthony's Triathlon in St. Petersburg. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published May 1|Updated May 1

ST. PETERSBURG — Matthew Sharpe knew what he needed to do, rounding the last corner at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon. The 30-year-old was neck-and-neck with defending champion Ben Kanute and Matt McElroy.

As the trio sprinted the final 150 meters toward the finish line, Sharpe fought for inside position. “Once I hit the last corner, I just went full gas and I was able to hold off these guys,” said Sharpe, of Boulder, Colo.

And it worked. Four strides before the finish line, Sharpe threw up his arms in celebratory fashion, clocking in at one hour, 44 minutes, 14 seconds after the 1.5K swim, 40K bike ride and 10K run. He finished one second ahead of McElroy and five ahead of Kanute.

In a photo finish, Matthew Sharpe edges Matt McElroy for the St. Anthony's Triathlon title.
In a photo finish, Matthew Sharpe edges Matt McElroy for the St. Anthony's Triathlon title. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

It was Sharpe’s first win since 2011 (the San Francisco Triathlon) and his first time racing in St. Anthony’s.

“It’s pretty special,” said Sharpe, a 2020 Tokyo Olympian for Team Canada.. “...To put some good training in and get a win here and just be able to race here, it’s super special for sure.”

The first-timers’ luck continued for Paula Findlay, who won the women’s race in 1:55:35. Her finish was one minute, three seconds faster than runnerup Amelia Rose Watkinson. St. Anthony’s marked Findlay’s second triathlon victory in a year; she won October’s Ironman 70.3 Oceanside in California.

Unlike Sharpe, Findlay didn’t have an idea of where she was placing-wise until near the end. She stayed calm and played to her strengths. She knew the 40K bike ride would be the best part of her race, so she rode hard to build some distance between her and the other women.

Typically, Findlay — who competed for Team Canada in the 2012 London Olympics — rides the bike to train for longer distance races (like the Ironman) — so the shorter St. Anthony’s was ideal.

Paula Findlay is all smiles just before winning the women's St. Anthony's title.
Paula Findlay is all smiles just before winning the women's St. Anthony's title. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

“I knew that if I could (ride) high-power, it would be over way sooner than I normally race,” said Findlay, 32.

The top finishers both agreed the course conditions were good despite rain in the area on Saturday night and some choppy waves out on their open-water swim.

Findlay, of Bend, Ore., trained in pools and rivers back home, more controlled environments than an ocean.

“The water was a lot choppier than I expected (thunderstorms were in the area Saturday afternoon),” Findlay said. “I think the key is to stay relaxed and not fight (the water) because that can really burn a lot of energy and you’re not going to necessarily go faster, the harder you try when it’s choppy like that.”

Otherwise, she and Sharpe thoroughly enjoyed the course experience for the first time.

For the first time in three years, thousands lined up before sunrise, happily charged into the water, biked and ran for miles in the 39th St. Anthony's Triathlon.
For the first time in three years, thousands lined up before sunrise, happily charged into the water, biked and ran for miles in the 39th St. Anthony's Triathlon. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

“It’s a really, really fast bike course,” Findlay said. “I find if you’re leading the race, it’s easy to stay ahead because you’re so hidden. There’s so many turns and so many swerves on the run, you kind of hide if you’re leading, so that was fun.”

St. Anthony’s, held for the first time since 2019 due to delays from the COVID-19 pandemic, boasted more than 2,000 participants in its return. After their finish Sunday, the champions expressed a sense of gratitude knowing how quickly things changed in 2020 and how long it has taken to get back to this point.

“You appreciate the opportunity,” Sharpe said. “You’re out there at the crack of dawn, the sun’s coming up, everybody’s around you, singing the (U.S.) anthem, and it’s just such good energy.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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