In the lead up to Kona Trizone caught up with 4 times Australian Ultra Distance Triathlon Champion, Australian Ironman Hall of Fame inductee and multiple Kona finisher Bruce Thomas.
Bruce first competed at Kona in 1991, having qualified at Forster. In those days athletes did not need to nominate as pro or age groupers, you either qualified or you didn’t, and the only difference between the athletes was that some received seeded numbers. In his first race at Kona Bruce finished 23rd, and inspired by his result returned in ’92 when he finished 16th, and was the top finishing Southern Hemisphere athlete. In these early days for Bruce Kona was a bit overwhelming, even threatening.
Everywhere he turned he was bumping into the stars he had read so much about, he was training and racing over the legendry course, the expo was like nothing he had seen before, and it was a weak long circus of events and ego’s. Seeing that many fit people in one place was intimidating. Then there was the heat, the winds, and the lava fields.
It was his ’92 effort that made Bruce realise that he had the chance to perform well at Kona, but also made him realise that if he wanted to step up to the next level he would have to take a different approach to the race. Kona had changed his attitude to Ironman. Competing in Kona meant competing against a top class international field, and the brutality of the race made every other Ironman seem like a piece of cake.
When Bruce returned in ’93 it was with a different attitude, more maturity, a more focused preparation, and a season of great results. With a 6th place finish at Ironman Germany and a second in the Ironman World Series (behind Ken Glah) Bruce was establishing himself as a serious contender.
He realised that trying to race Kona off the back of an Australian winter was never going to work, he was at the wrong stage of preparation in his season, and the shock of the heat and humidity was just too much. In May Bruce left for Europe to get in some racing preparation before heading to the US for some altitude training, finishing off his preparation in California where the time zone and heat ensured his was as prepared as possible.
Arriving in Kona 10 days before the race this time he was not overawed. He knew what to expect and was able to remove himself from all the hype. Keeping himself to himself he fulfilled his media and sponsorship commitments and focused on what he needed to achieve. Despite taking a much more focused approach Bruce still had no great expectations of his performance, helping him go into the race in a really good mental state.
Bruce swam 50:29, coming out of the water in 6th place shortly ahead of the legendry Mark Allen. Bruce was surprised to see Mark running into transition with him, and quickly realised if he could match Mark on the bike he was on for a good result. Bruce and Mark took off together riding strongly, and by 40K had caught all of the athletes in head of them.
The lead group of cyclists read like a who’s who of Triathlon, with Pauli Kiuri, Wolfgang Dittrich , Ken Glah, Mike Pigg, Jurgen Zack, Holger Lorenz and Chuckie â€˜v’ all keeping Mark Allen and Bruce honest. The group stayed together until the hill at Kawaihae when Mark attacked breaking the elastic to Bruce, Pigg and Chuckie â€˜v’. However this year Bruce was feeling strong, 160K into the bike and for once he was thinking â€˜man this is easy’.
Bruce rode the rest of the cycle leg solo coming in with a 4:38:15 split, giving away 9 minutes to the leaders. Onto the run and he was still feeling good and set about picking off those ahead of him. Soon he had caught and passed Holger Lorenz and Chuckie â€˜v’. The day was relatively benign for the athletes, with manageable winds and even a bit of light drizzle up Hawi. Bruce ran an impressive 3:00:05 to claim 7th place in a total time of 8:28:49. It was a close race with the top 15 finishing within 30 minutes of winner Mark Allen. Although he returned in ’94 and ’96 this remained Bruce’s best result at Kona.
While the race was nearly 20 years ago it is really only the trappings that have changed, the basics remain the same as today. Bruce rode his Cannondale roadie (no time trial bikes) with aero bars fitted. He had Zipp deep dish wheels (like todays 303’s), and nutrition plans were a simple case of get what food into you that equated to 1 gram of carb per 1kg of body weight. Caffeine was taken in via coke on the course, and salt tablets and ibuprofen were not a common consideration. Aero helmets were just a glint in a designers eye.
Mainstream press coverage in Australia was more prominent than today. Obviously the Triathlon magazines were all over it, and while there was no Trizone, twitter or live internet coverage, Channel 9’s Wide World of Sport had frequent crosses to its camera crew covering the race throughout it’s 4 hour Saturday morning programme.
Bruce togeather with his wife Christina remain prominent figures in the world of Australian Triathlon, helping many new generation triathletes achieve their Kona dreams through their Energylink coaching business based in Sydney. He also remains very interested in today’s Kona battles. Asked for his predictions Bruce immediately thinks of fellow Australian’s Craig Alexander and Chris McCormack. While he thinks both are a real chance of winning the title again he thinks that Crowie has the edge in mental toughness. He recognises that both athletes are coming towards the end of their peak, and believes this could open the door for Andreas Raelert or even Pete Jacobs. He will be keeping a close eye on Sunday’s race, knowing what the top athletes are going through like few other Australians.