First-time competitors won both the men’s and women’s divisions in the 27th Captain Morgan Ironman 70.3 Triathlon Sunday in a race that saw close battles among both the leading men and women.
The field of 303 competitors was fewer than in the past, according to Tom Guthrie, race coordinator. Under a ruling by the Ironman Organization that took effect this year, the St. Croix half Ironman race is no longer a qualifier for the Ironman Championship in Hawaii by competing in the St. Croix Half.
However, there are more than 30 Half-Ironman races, including the world championship 70.3 in Austria, open to competitors.
“We haven’t declined in stature, we’ve just declined in numbers,” Guthrie said. “This is a world championship quality race.”
The race began at 6:30 a.m. when the professional competitors dove into the water and swam 1.24 miles from Protestant Cay, around the island to the Fort Christenvaern lawn. There they jumped on bicycles for the grueling 56-mile ride that included scaling the .710 mile mountain road that rises 600-feet – known to the racers as "the Beast." The race concludes with a two-loop run covering 13.1 miles east of Christiansted and through town to the finish line at the National Park.
The distance for the sprinters was a 750-meter swim, an eight-mile bike ride and a four-mile run.
The day was bright and hot. A few participants struggled to cross the finish line and fall into the arms of medical personnel. At least one person collapsed on the course and received medical treatment.
The winners said the race was difficult, but they commented favorably on the rest stops and Crucian hospitality. Some talked about their creative ways to train for the blistering course.
The men’s overall winner, Matt Chrabot from Colorado, finished the course in 4 hours, 9 minutes 57 second, five seconds faster than Australian Richie Cunningham.
Cunningham has competed in and won the St. Croix race several times.
During much of the day, Drew Scott, also from Colorado, was Chrabot’s closest challenger, but Cunningham pulled ahead in the run to nip Scott by less than a second, in a time of 4:17:21 to Scott’s 4:17:53, which was good for third place.
Chrabot, a first time competitor in the Captain Morgan Ironman, said he “stayed within his limits” and “took the corners nice and easy” throughout the race. To prepare for the island heat in the midst of a Colorado winter, he said he made frequent visits to a sauna.
Chrabot won the St. Croix Sprint in 2005.
Some of his $10,000 prize will be spent on a house he just bought in Lafayette, Colorado.
The women’s race was similar to the men’s, as Lauren Goss, from South Carolina, and Amanda Stevens, from Oklahoma and Arizona, battled neck and neck most of the way.
Goss pulled out the win in a time of 4:40:31, which also placed her eighth among all competitors.
New Yorker Kirsty Jahn overtook Stevens during the run to finish second in a time of 4:46:56, to Stevens’ third place time of 4:52:41.
Goss, another first time participant, said the St. Croix Triathlon was “challenging” and “different than any other race I’ve done.” She said she “took it slow, slow and I didn’t die.”
Jahn said she also trained for the heat. She worked out in her New York apartment with space heaters blasting hot air. She described the St. Croix Ironman “like a cross-country” course.
St. Croix residents were the first five finishers in the shorter Sprint event: Dedrick Luikena, Dave Barbour, Sydney Marous, Samuel Lukata and Julie Sommer.
The first Virgin Islander to cross the finish line in the Ironman 70.3 was reportedly Wayne Nichols, who finished in 5:36:39.
Most of the competitors finished the race before noon. There were a lot of tired smiles, hugs and back slaps among the athletes. Most said the day had been difficult but worthwhile.
“It is a classically great race,” said Guthrie, summing up many sentiments.
Final results can be found at www.ironman.com and www.stcroixtriathlon.com.