Credit where credit is due. With a call on Tuesday and boarding flights on the Wednesday bound for Sri Lanka, 10 of USM Events staff took the flight to Sri Lanka to sort out “the mess in Colombo”. The reports coming out of Sri Lanka from various pro’s and age group attendees alike was that this event could become a farce. After the outright failure of China Ironman in 2011 and the distinct lack of events for WTC in the world’s fastest growing region, WTC CEO, Andrew Messick and his team could not afford bad press from Asia if their desire to have a successful, true global series of top level triathlons is to be fulfilled.
On Sunday 19 February, the 300 plus athletes that raced Sri Lanka Ironman 70.3 and 5150 have responded with a large sigh of relief. The feedback on the ground from athletes, both pro and age group was that the event was turned around from certain death to a pioneering experience in a 3rd world country with local support and scenes that were incredible. Across the board everyone in Colombo told Trizone that the event, whilst having a less than ideal lead up, ended up being a fun and challenging event. Whilst not without some concerns, such as: a long (200m plus addition) swim course for both the 70.3 and 5150, as well as the odd misdirection of athletes and crazy tuk tuk drivers causing a bit of havoc on the bike course, everyone finished safe and sound with smiles on their faces.
The Sri Lanka Navy were called in for the swim, held as a waist deep water start and a rectangular out and back course. The warm tropical waters had athletes charging through the swim and climbing the sandstone stairs and up toÂ a T1 on the Galle Face Green with plenty of local spectators curiously watching on in the early morning light. The weather conditions were mild and clear but expectations were for a hot day ahead. For the pro’s, who started alongside age groupers, Faris al Sultan lead out Bryan Rhodes, Kent Horner and Josh Rix with a chase group less than 25 m back.
300 plus military and police assisted the local volunteers to try and close off a bike course usually crowded with traffic. Doing this successfully was not expected and sure enough it was a case of being very wary on the first of 3 x 30km laps. Sure enough, at several times different riders were sent off course, first it was Rhodes, then later Rix and Horner. For the age groupers alike it was a case of enjoying the moment and recognising the local teams were doing all they could to assist in keeping the course totally closed. There are not many who didn’t tell us of near misses with cars, trucks or stray dogs. Thankfully all came home safe and sound.
Onto the run, which consisted of a 4 lap ocean side course, it was Rhodes and Al Sultan that had broken clear through the challenges on the bike. It was going to be a race in two for the win by then with Rhodes trying to hold off a fast charging German on the run. By now the Sri Lankan heat was into the 30 degree mark and rising with the earlier breeze from the bike course turning into complete calm. The Sri Lankan volunteers worked tirelessly cheering and supporting the athletes on course as they enjoyed the run course now filling with the 5150 competitors along with the 70.3 pro’s and leading age groupers.
Eventually it was Al Sultan who took the line honours after passing Rhodes on the 2nd lap of the run. He told Trizone post race that his recent training block with his team mates as they get themselves ready for the Abu Dhabi Triathlon, prepared him perfectly for the race. “Yes it was not an ideal lead in from the point of the organisers and there were challenges out on course. But they ultimately did a great job under the circumstances and should the race continue it will only get better. You have to invest time into these races. Look at Abu Dhabi now, it is one of the best races in the world thanks to race organisers and athletes that invested hard time and effort. I enjoy supporting these pioneer style races and I hope others continue to do so. I’ve had a great experience today and very pleased to come away with the victory.”
For runner up Rhodes “First of all I’m just happy to have a great result against some tough competition. I’ve had a couple of tough years with Achilles issues and things are coming back. Today was a good day for me when things came together. The challenges pre race and on course were just that. Challenges that you have to overcome. There is a great crowd here and we’re having a lot of fun, let’s focus on that.”
In the women’s race Australian Christie Sym, in her first race back from surgery put the heat on during the bike leading through to the run. She told us before the start that she would test herself and see how things went. “It is early in the season and I don’t know how my body will respond but I’ll have a good hard go.” Onto the run it was Lucie Zelenkova who had the legs and powered away almost immediately. She stamped her authority on the race and ran away to a 70.3 win in style.
Over a quiet lemonade or two post race Trizone had a few words with some of the USM crew. We must admit we were presently surprised to be interrupted during our chat with age groupers patting the USM team on the back and thanking them for coming over to “save the day and get the race together”. That helped us answer a few of our questions. But where to now? We were told that they will head home to Australia and have a collective download with WTC and the licensee of the Sri Lankan event. “From there we can work together and learn from these experiences.”
An experience it was!