With an eye on the finish line

Athletes push their bodies to the limit at the 20th annual Wasa Triathlon.

Jon Bird

Jon Bird

Jon Bird hunched over, drawing deep breaths as he recovered from from his triathlon race in the Olympic distance moments after crossing the finish line.

The Calgary native had just completed the course of 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike and 10 km run in just under two hours to take first place.

He was a good nine minutes ahead of any other competitors.

That lead came from getting out of the water first and building up a comfortable cushion during his bike, which put him seven minutes ahead of anyone else before the run.

“It really plays with guys’ minds, when you get into that kind of lead,” said Bird. “They basically run for second [place], because seven minutes over a 10K is a pretty strong amount of time to build back into.

“That was one of my game plans coming in here today. I’m racing next weekend and the weekend after that, so for me to absolutely shell myself on the run today, going head-to-head against someone, I certainly would’ve done that—no question about it—but I really wanted to make my mark on the bike and try to take guys out of the race in that element.”

It was Bird’s fourth trip to Wasa for the triathlon, after making three consecutive appearances from 2007-10.

He’s had the opportunity to represent Canada on the world stage since then, but was happy to come out for the 20th anniversary of the race, which is organized by Charlie Cooper, of RM Events.

“The one thing that I really like about this event, is Charlie, from RM Events, does an incredible job of taking care of people, and he has since the first year I came out here,” said Bird.

“With the barbecue, with the organization, the transition, with the safety precautions that are on course—it’s a benchmark for Canadian racing and there’s a lot of things that other race directors or other races can learn about what Charlie does here in terms of creating a family atmosphere.”

Sue Huse, a Canadian expat representing Missoula across the 49th parallel, came in first place in the women’s category, with a time of 2:09:12, building up a four-minute lead on Tanya Solomon, who was the runner up.

Like Bird, Huse said she wanted to use her time on the bike to open up a gap.

“Swimming is my weakest point, so I was trying to get up there and get a good time for that and once I was off there, I was just trying to work the bike,” Huse said.

“I’m comfortable with my run, because I’ve always had a fast run, but I was really pushing on the bike and I felt like that really helped me overall.”

Solomon, who came in behind Huse, has won the race for the past two years in the Olympic distance category.

“I knew she was there and I knew that I needed to have a good bike and swim in order to beat her, so I felt like once I was able to pass her on the run, I felt comfortable, just because I knew my run was strong,” added Huse.

For the second straight year, the highest-placing Cranbrook resident was the Daily Townsman’s own staff member Tim Fix, finishing in 34th overall with an official time of 2:18:04.

Chris Kostiuk represented Kimberley’s best placing, finishing 41st overall with a time of 2:20:24.

Calgary made it a sweep on the podium again in the Sprint distance, which is half of the Olympic course, with Willy Gonzalez earning first place with a time of 1:05:36.

Sarah Gavin-Raap, hailing from the same city, took the top spot in the women’s category, with a time of 1:06:57.

Mark Neeve was the top local finisher in fifth place, representing Kimberley with a time of 1:11:36—good for fifth overall. Thomas Stambulic was the top Cranbrook athlete, with a time of 1:18:17.

On Saturday, roughly 300 kids took part in the TriKids race, which offered scaled down distances for kids in different age divisions ranging from 4-15 years old.

The whole two-day event is put together by Cooper and his army of volunteers, including help from organizations like the Kimberley Gymnastics Club, Kimberley Swim Club and the Cranbrook Society for Community Living, which manned aid stations along the course.

Steve King also returned to the announcers booth, where he kept the crowd entertained and informed as every racer crossed the finish line.

“Without volunteers, now I know this over the years, you just don’t put on events,” said Cooper.

The event celebrated it’s 20th anniversary, and while Cooper hasn’t been around for all those years, he’s been a staple for many of them, starting as race director in 2001.

“It’s been really good to see it grow and you get the confidence that we’ve been doing a good thing over the years,” said Cooper. “We started off in 2000 not having an event, and in 2001, we brought it back and had 160 people, then went to 380 and it just grew from there.

“Last year was our record, in terms of numbers of people, and unfortunately it was a poor year with some rain, so this year, our numbers are down a little bit.”

“But Wasa is such a great place to hold the event.”