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Australian wins her sixth St. Anthony's title

[Times photos: Lara Cerri]
Michellie Jones high-fives spectators during the final stretch.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The grand lady of the St. Anthony's Triathlon -- and perhaps the entire sport -- has plenty left in her tank, mate.

In a race otherwise dominated by Americans, it was Australian Michellie Jones, a St. Anthony's legend and the most decorated female triathlete in history, who emerged in the final stage, the 6.2-mile run, to capture her sixth title Saturday. Her time of 2 hours, 1 minute, 57 seconds was 43 seconds ahead of Sheila Taormina.

Despite brutal heat and humidity (the race started at noon), Jones, 32, had the strength to prevail.

"These sort of conditions, there's no guarantee you're going to finish that 10K run," said Jones, who won St. Anthony's five consecutive times from 1994-98 and placed third last year. "This is the hottest it's been for a long, long time. In these conditions, you don't want to go too hard.

"Each race I've done this year, I've improved. I knew I had that mental edge in that respect. I knew each race I was getting better."

Jones' success at St. Anthony's helped catapult the race into the world's elite, and it became a world cup race last year.

"To come and win here six times, it's amazing," she said. "Each year, it's a challenge because people get better and better. There's something about this race. I always seem to give it something a little extra every time."

The race took shape at the start of the bike, when five women broke away in a drafting pack. Jones and four Americans (world No.3-ranked Barb Lindquist, 2000 champion Joanna Zeiger, North Palm Beach's Laura Reback and Taormina) gradually extended their lead over a pack of 15.

But two in the lead group were suffering by the latter portion of the 24.8-mile, eight-lap circuit. Reback struggled to hold the draft, and Zeiger, the 2001 runner-up, battled asthma problems.

Adding to the plot was the presence in the second pack of defending champion Carol Montgomery, a former Canadian Olympic runner. She scorched the run last year, clocking a 34:02 to surge from far behind and win. At the start of the run, Jones took the lead, with Lindquist, Taormina, Zeiger and Reback following. Montgomery began the run 2:45 behind, but her fitness (she's recovering from a broken fibula sustained while training Sept.11.) wasn't up to her superlative standards. She had the fourth-fastest run (37:35) but didn't threaten the leaders and finished sixth.

Jones, who lives near San Diego and has trained in the United States since 1991, slowly pulled away, opening a 20-second gap on Lindquist by the midpoint. Taormina found her stride during the final few miles and passed Lindquist for second in 2:02:40. Lindquist was third in 2:02:59.

Brazilian Carla Moreno, who had the second-fastest run, was fourth in 2:03:47. Zeiger took fifth in 2:04:24.

For Taormina, 32, of Livonia, Mich., it was atonement. A swim specialist who won a gold medal in the 4x400 at the 1996 Olympics, she had a humbling St. Anthony's debut in 1999. After surging into the lead on the bike, she fell to fifth on the run before collapsing 200 yards from the finish. "Instead of redemption, it's more like, "Oh good, I'm finally figuring this sport out,"' Taormina said. "This is probably the best I've ever felt in the heat in my life."

Taormina and Lindquist had a disagreement with Jones. Taormina said Jones didn't pull her weight in trying to help the group extend its lead on the bike. "A two-minute cushion (heading into the run) is fine for her but not for us," Taormina said. "I'd like to see her be a little bit more of a team player."

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