MIDDLEBURY — To call this the greatest gathering of world-class athletes the region, maybe the state, has ever seen would be safely edging out onto a very strong limb.
Sunday the first Revolution 3 half ironman took over Lake Quassapaug, the grounds of Quassy Amusement Park, and the highways and byways of Middlebury and Litchfield County. There were Olympians running past your house, world champions sweeping past that water station on the corner, and No. 1 ranked iron people splashing around your lake.
You can take our famous golf and tennis tournaments, our road races, our bike races, our college sporting events, and our minor league baseball and hockey games, and throw them out the window. Connecticut’s largest assemblage of great athletes was in Middlebury Sunday.
There were more than 40 professional triathletes, like Luke Bell from Melbourne, Australia, who is a 16-time 70.3 champion, 70.3 being the number of total miles covered by the swim (1.2 miles), bike (56) and run (13.1). There was Paul Amey of the U.K., a two-time world duathlon champion and a 2004 Olympian for Great Britain, and Matt Reed, the reigning U.S. champion and a U.S. Olympian.
Natascha Badmann, who is only a six-time ironman world champion, came from Switzerland, and Aussie Mirinda Carfrae, the 2007 world champion in the half ironman, also competed. U.S. Olympian Joanna Zeiger, who finished fourth in Sydney in 2004, was also in the field. That is just a sampling.
Go ahead. Say it: Why are they in Middlebury? Try $100,000 in total prize money, which is the largest payday in the sport with one exception: the world championship. Winners took home $16,000, huge to some of us, but a paltry sum compared to spoiled pros who swing bats, clubs and rackets.
Tents, vendor booths and remarkably, a JumboTron, filled the picnic ground at Quassy. Spectators opened folding chairs and paperbacks. Some dosed, some tanned and some watched. All that was missing was a blimp and Brent Musburger. Race organizers estimated that, at its peak, 6,000 computers around the world tuned in live on the Internet, which means many people had nothing to do Sunday.
With nearly 800 athletes, men and women, pros and amateurs, the logistics alone were daunting. You have never seen so many port-o-lets. There was a pre-race moment of silence and invocation. I thought they only said a prayer before a rodeo. The things you learn.
The winners were Reed of Boulder, Colo., who rolled across the finish line [Dash] seriously, he stretched out and rolled on the ground [Dash] in 3 hours, 59 minutes; and Carfrae, who also trains in Boulder, in 4:27. Reed swam 1.2 miles, biked for 56 more and then ran his half-marathon in 1:19, with an average minute-per-mile time of 6:02. That’s crazy.
Carfrae, who transitioned to the run 3:19 behind the leader, ran a 1:23 half-marathon, which was 6:20 per mile, to race past the leaders.
Who are these people?
“This course was relentless,” noted Reed. “It never gave you a break. There are some downhills out there, but there weren’t any flat sections where you could get into a rhythm. It was incredible how much the course was up and down and rolling.”
This comes from a guy who trains in the Rockies.
“I just felt good today,” said Carfrae. “Some days the stars align, or whatever, and I felt strong. When you have a good day and your legs feel good, the hills don’t bother you.”
Chris Thomas of Easton, Conn., a three-time winner of the Pat Griskus sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, was the first amateur finisher, 10th overall, in 4:15.03. “I was so excited coming to this race because it is such a tremendous field,” said Thomas, “and an opportunity to race against truly the best in the world. It is rare that you get this many top athletes together.”
As one race spectator noted, “For an amateur this is like teeing it up with Tiger,” said famed distance runner George Straznitskas, whose son, Rob, came down from Maine to compete. Race announcer Dave Ragsdale, who calls 30 triathlons a year, added: “Actually, it is like playing in the foursome in back of Tiger, but, you are hitting into his group.”
We’ve only just begun testing our iron guys and gals. We have the Lake Waramaug tri June 19, the Olympic Griskus June 20, the sprint Griskus July 8, the Litchfield Hills Olympic tri Aug. 23 in New Hartford, and the Nutmegman half ironman in Southbury Sept. 20. It is exhausting just thinking about what these men and women have ahead of them. I need a nap.
By Joe Palladino