83.9 F
Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, July 17, 2024


May 2, 2004 – German athletes took the top spots, male and female, in Sunday's St. Croix Half Ironman triathlon. In his first Ironman competition, Faris Al Sutan bested all contenders with an overall time of four hours, eight minutes and 40 seconds. This was 27 seconds slower than last year's winner, Craig Alexander of Austria. Alexander came in second this year with a time 4:14:00.
Fellow Austrian Ritchie Cunningham followed him with a time of 4:14:44. Cunningham, who also came in third place in the 2003 St. Croix Ironman, clocked an overall time of 4:09:33 in 2003, losing a precious five minutes and ten seconds in this year's competition.
All athletes carried a tracking chip strapped to their leg. The chip calculated the athlete's time for each segment of the race. Al Sutan completed the swim in 26:19, the bike in 2:21:47 and the run in 1:20:35.
Nina Kraft, also of Germany, took first place in the women's professional category with a time of 4:37:01. This was 30 seconds faster than the top female last year.
Coming in right on the heels of Kraft, with an overall time of 4:38:54, was second place finisher, Liz Blatchford, of Austria. Rounding out the top three of the women's professionals was Heather Fuhr, with a time of 4:50:08. Last year's winner, Sue Bartholomew Williams did not compete.
Both Al Sutan and Kraft will receive a prize purse of $50,000. The 16th annual St. Croix Half Ironman began at 6:30 a.m. with a 1.24-mile (2 km) swim, followed by a 56-mile (90 km) bike race and a 13.1-mile (21 km) run. A separate sprint course was run simultaneously and began at 7:30 am. The trianthlon is an official qualifier for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii, the Ironman Lake Placid, and the Ironman Canada.
In the winner's circle, Al Sutan praised the quality of the race and joked about the obstacles he encountered. "It was a great race, a challenging course," he said. "I almost ran over a dog in the bike. I am very, very happy and tired."
Kraft agreed the course was demanding. "The bike was tough, I was pushing hard, but when you are leading, you don't stop." Kraft, who finished 12th overall, said she would be back next year.
Twenty-one miles into the bike course, athletes encountered the Beast – a 600-foot climb on a 0.7-mile stretch of highway with grade of eight to 14 percent. For many, it was deciding factor.
Bob Halk took top honors in the V.I. residents' category, completing the course in 5:17:07. Halk, an employee of Hovensa, said it was his first time competing in an Ironman race. Showing just a hint of fatigue at the finish line, Halk was happy with his performance. "I met my goal. My goal was to complete the race in five hours and 15 minutes." Halk said his training schedule enabled him to keep up with the pros. "I trained hard since Christmas," he said. "I did the bike course every week, I swam 285 hours, biked 1400 hours and ran 1100 hours." Halk completed the course 76th overall.
Mark Steckel took sprint-course honors with an overall time of 1:02:31. Louis Lopez finished second with 1:04:09 and Maurice Wills came in third with a time of 1:06:25. The sprint course featured a 750-meter swim, 14-kilometer, bike race, which bypassed the infamous Beast, and concluded with a 7-kilometer run.
1500 volunteers assisted
Tom Guthrie of Project St. Croix, the non-profit organization that has produced the triathlon since 1992, said St. Croix residents exceeded expectations when it came to volunteers. He kept track of the number of volunteers by the number of t-shirts handed out. "We passed out 1,500 volunteer t-shirts," he said.
In addition to the aid stations located at key points on the bike and run course, volunteers were on hand to ensure the safety of the swimmers and to care for the injured or exhausted. Three Coast Guard boats, including personnel from the VIPD and Department of Planning and Natural Resource kept watch on the swimmers. In the water, safety divers and up to 60 kayakers waited to assist swimmers with any problems.
The 86-degree heat and 74-percent humidity took a toll on many athletes. A medical station, manned with over 30 volunteers and at least nine licensed physicians, assisted athletes who were overcome with exhaustion, dehydration or muscle spasms. Volunteers helped, and in some cases carried athletes to one of 30 beds set up in the medical center. Exhausted athletes were covered with iced towels to bring down their temperature, their vital signs were checked, and any abrasions they suffered were attended to.
"These are healthy people with minor ailments," said Dr. Laurence Solins, an emergency room physician at the St. Croix Juan F. Luis Hospital. Solins said the medical tent would assist about 250 athletes during the day. "I volunteered to be a part of the community, part of the family," the doctor said.
Exiting the medical tent, some athletes were referred to the massage tent, where licensed massage therapists were waiting to administer a rubdown. Stan Mason, a massage therapist at the Westin Resort in St. John and the Marriott Hotel in St. Thomas, said this is the second year he has volunteered his skills to the triathlon. Although all race participants were given a free, five-minute massage, priority was given to those with muscle spasms or cramps. Mason said, "I've been massaging about 10 athletes an hour."
Guthrie said the race would receive national television coverage. The race was recorded for telecast later on ESPN International and the Outdoor Life network.

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