CLEARWATER BEACH, Florida -- Physics has the speed of light. Stars Wars movies have warp speed. Earthly machine powered land speed record attempts have the Bonneville salt flats and the Black Rock desert in Nevada. And the sport of triathlon and its 70.3 distance has Clearwater, Florida and its Ironman 70.3 World Championship course.
Saturday Julie Dibens broke won her first paved road triathlon World Championship and along the way became the first woman to break the 4-hour barrier for the Ironman 70.3 distance. Her sizzling 3:59:33 clocking left her 4 minutes and 16 seconds ahead of two-time Ironman 70.3 runner-up Mary Beth Ellis, and 3:06 in front of Joanna Zeiger's one-year-old race record, the previous world best for the distance.
Dibens, just two weeks after securing her third straight Xterra World Championship on the off road trails and rocks of Maui, did it with a third best women's swim of 23:48, a rocket-ship magnitude bike split of 2:07:15 , and the sixth-best half marathon split of 1:24:37.
In a year in which Boulder, Colorado neighbor and Scrabble partner Chrissie Wellington made history by smashing the Ironman distance world best with an 8:31 clocking at Roth, Germany, and toppled the Ironman Hawaii women's race record set by Paula Newby-Fraser 17 years before with an 8:54 clocking, Dibens' race — breaking the women's 4-hour barrier — may be overshadowed. Nevertheless, it is also a significant barrier broken for women in triathlon.
Powered by a race-best, but not a course record, 1:20:32 half marathon, Canadian Magali Tissyre out sprinted Swiss athlete Caroline Steffen to take third. Laura Bennett overcame a drafting call she hotly disputed but which cost her 4 minutes, taking 5th in 4:07:39.
The men played a co-starring role in this record shattering festival.
Longshot Michael Raelert of Germany shocked the field and emerged from the shadows of his brother Andreas with a record-smashing 3:34:04 overall time. In so doing, he broke Terenzo Bozzone's year-old race and world record time for the 70.3 distance by 6:06. He also broke his brother's year-old run record by 1:48 with a course record 1:09:06 clocking. His 1:59:35 bike split, though 8th fastest among the top 10 overall finishers, broke the 2007 course record of 1:59:55 set by Oscar Galindez
With his performance Raelert emerged from the shadow cast by his older brother Andreas, who slashed past a dozen competitors last year with a 1:10 run to finish in second place, and who made an impressive Kona debut during which he dueled for 10 miles with Craig Alexander before finishing third. Despite looking like a Chippendale dancer as he almost ran out of his race pants, Michael Raelert also looked as if he wasn't breathing hard when he hit the line.
Current two-time Ironman Hawaii winner and the first Ironman 70.3 world Champion Craig Alexander saluted Raelert's performance and took no offense that his 2006 winning time would have placed him 25th on this record smashing day. "Many people think that Michael Raelert came from nowhere and he was no match for his brother Andreas," said Alexander. "But he has been on the radar for everyone who know about this sport. This came as no surprise to me, as I have raced him many times and knew his potential was a match for his brother."
Alexander summed up the day when he said: "I think this type of quantum leap in performance is great for our sport and can happen when the fields are so deep in quality and speed."
On his own behalf, Raelert was quite humble. "I never thought this would happen today," he said. "I only hoped to make a top 10 or maybe a top 5 finish. I am so happy." In the next moment, Raelert gave full credit to the coaching he received from his brother Andreas. "Before, I would have good races and bad races and I didn't know why. But I asked Andreas to coach me for this race and he taught me how to focus for one big race and not to worry about the little races leading up to it. When I followed his advice, I became stronger than I ever have been before."
While Italian two-time Olympian Daniel Fontana was thrilled with his 3:36:44 finishing time and silver medal finish, the USA's Matt Reed combined admiration for Raelert's performance, disappointment with his own, and criticism of the layout of the Clearwater course.
When asked if he would have taken it if someone had offered him his 3:37:50 finishing time without racing the championship, Reed replied with a definite "No!"
As he explained, Reed said, "No disrespect to Terenzo for his winning time last year. But I felt sure this field would have beaten his time. And while nothing I could do today would have changed the results given his 1:09:06 half marathon, I predicted before the race to my wife Kelly that the winner would run 1:09, only I thought I would do it. The trouble was he had his racing legs and I didn't when the time came."
While he understood the particular demands of running a race in an highly developed residential area like Clearwater, Reed did have his disagreements with the bike course layout. "The narrow lanes on the bike course, necessary because they have to share the road with cars and narrow the race lanes, gives the bike a big draft effect. Which means it turns into a running race really."
Reed added, "I'm not calling anyone a cheater, because the reality of this course is the reason for unavoidable drafting effect. Michael played the game forced upon us all very well and he deserved to win. I just wish I had my run legs today."
Frenchman Sylvain Sudrie, who recently lost a close duel for the ITU Long Course World Championship gold medal to American Tim O'Donnell, ran a fourth best 1:12:47 to hold off Australian Joe Gambles for fourth.
Greg and Laura Bennett both had hard times dealing with the circumstances on the bike. While Greg started stronger, Laura got home-bragging rights. Greg Bennett got off the bike in third place after a third-best 1:59:08 split, but faded out of contention on the run. Laura Bennett was polite but irate after recounting her drafting penalty that cost her 4 minutes and moved her back from 2nd place to 5th. "I was riding 10 meters back of the top women's chase group when a huge pack of men pros caught the women. Suddenly 30 men caught us and created havoc. If I followed the rules, I theoretically would have to pass all 40 men or fall back behind all of them all of them," said Bennett. "So the draft marshal came up and have me a 4-minute penalty." Bennett didn't sulk however. Her 1:22:43 run, second fastest to third place Magali Tissiyre's 1:20:32, brought her back to 5th place. Husband Greg, after posting a swift 1:59:01 bike, faded to a 1:21:00 run and finished in 27th overall.
Not everyone emerged unscathed. Defending champion Joanna Zeiger, riding in the middle of the small pack chasing Julie Dibens, crashed and broke a clavicle.
Clearwater 09 Gallery 1
Clearwater 09 Gallery 2
Foster Grant 70.3 World Championships
Clearwater, Florida / November 14, 2009
Top 10 men
1. Michael Raelert (GER) 3:34:04
2. Daniel Fontana (ITA) 3:36:44
3. Matthew Reed (USA) 3:37:50
4. Sylvain Sudrie (FRA) 3:38:02
5. Joe Gambles (GBR) 3:38:19
6. Kevin Collington (USA) 3:40:16
7. Luke Bell (AUS) 3:40:16
8. Alberto Casadei (ITA) 3:40:19
9. Leon Griffin (AUS) 3:40:31
10. Brian Fleischmann (USA) 3:41:37
Top 10 women
1. Julie Dibens (GBR) 3:59:33
2. Mary Beth Ellis (USA) 4:03:49
3. Magali Tisseyre (CAN) 4:05:27
4. Caroline Steffen (SWI) 4:0533
5. Laura Bennett (USA) 4:07:39
6. Michellie Jones (AUS) 4:08:17
7. Sarah Groff (CAN) 4:09:34
8. Amanda Stevens (USA) 4:13:16
9. Karin Thuerig (SWI) 4:15:04
10. Vanessa Gianinni (BRA) 4:17:57