tampabay.com

Australian sets the standard

Craig Alexander , 33, captures the inaugural event in 3 hours , 45 minutes, 37 seconds .

By SCOTT PURKS
Published November 12, 2006


CLEARWATER - Thousands of people screamed. ThunderStix pounded. Dance music blared across Clearwater Beach. And there was Australian Craig Alexander right in the middle of it - running into history.

He had all but sealed victory in the first Ironman World Championship 70.3 race, a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and a 13.1-mile run.

A hundred yards from the finish he stopped and blew kisses to the rock-concert frenzy squeezing the home stretch, and as he had often done through the race, he looked back.

"Just in case," Alexander said.

He knew one of history's most decorated triathletes, England's 35-year-old Simon Lessing, was behind him.

"You can never relax when Simon is in the race," Alexander said. "Never."

Until, that is, the finish line. That's when the 33-year-old Alexander turned to the raucous throng, bowed, then turned back, snatched the tape and waved it over his head.

The inaugural winning time beamed on the electronic clock over his head: 3 hours, 45 minutes, 37 seconds.

"I don't think it's possible to explain how awesome this feels," said Alexander, who was near the front at every stage and took the lead for good early in the run over Lessing, who finished 48 seconds behind. "As the years go by, I'll look back on this as one of my greatest moments. With this victory I can say, 'I'm a world champion. ... A world champion!' That's an incredible thing."

Canada's Samantha McGlone, 27, can say the same after breaking the tape in 4:12:58, ending a similar race with Canada's Lisa Bentley. From the start in the Gulf of Mexico, through the bike on the streets of Clearwater and Largo and throughout the run into Clearwater Beach, Bentley pushed McGlone.

Unlike Alexander, McGlone never looked back.

"I felt like Bentley was right there the whole time, so I just told myself, 'Go, go, go,' " McGlone said. "At one point on the run, my coach yelled that (Bentley) was making time on me and I needed to push harder. So I did.

"I gave it everything I had. By the end I had nothing left to give."

Bentley, 37, said, "I couldn't see McGlone ahead of me, but then that really didn't matter. All I could think about was keeping myself going. If I would have had another gear, I would have used it. But I was out of gears."

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Bentley's performance was that it came three weeks after she placed third in the full Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

"I started feeling pretty tired on the run, but then I got a second wind toward the end," she said. "All in all, I feel great."

But the biggest winner of the day, according to the top-five male and female finishers, might have been the event itself.

"For this being a first-time race it was unbelievable," Alexander said. "I can't say there were any problems whatsoever. On the contrary. It was great. The whole thing. Just great."

Scott Purks can be reached at (813) 226-3353 or purks@sptimes.com.