Participants view event as success

Published November 12, 2006

CLEARWATER - Saturday's inaugural running drew rave reviews from most of the athletes involved.

"When you consider the number of intersections we went through, it was outstanding," said Simon Lessing, the second man to cross the finish line, in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 25 seconds. "It was very well-organized."

Added third-place finisher Richie Cunningham, "It may be new, but it's a great race with a world-class field. ... I think it was a big success for the organizers."

WALK IN THE PARK? Second-place female finisher Lisa Bentley almost felt like the race was a breeze - well, at least compared with the Ironman World Championship, where she finished third among the women three weeks ago in Kailua-Kona. Saturday's triathlon was half the distance of the Hawaii event, which she finished in 9:25:18.

"I was as fit as ever going into Hawaii," said Bentley, whose time Saturday was 4:14:30, just under two minutes behind Samantha McGlone. "I was using my training for Hawaii for this race."

Two other top-10 finishers among the men and women competed in Hawaii: Katja Schumacher, not a top finisher in Hawaii (10:14:04), was ninth Saturday (4:26:10), and Chris Lieto was ninth in both, finishing in 3:57:41 after posting 8:27:37 in Hawaii.

A STRONG FINISH: Double amputee Rudy Garcia-Tolson received a raucous ovation from the remaining spectators after crossing the finish line in 7:16:33.

"This was my first half-Ironman," said Garcia-Tolson, who uses curved metal attachments below each knee to bike and run.

The 18-year-old from California was born with a defect in both legs and was told at an early age he would never use them.

Garcia-Tolson was the youngest finisher, just behind the oldest, Illinois' 81-year-old Robert McKeague (6:57:49).

BACK FOR MORE: Bradenton's Heather Gollnick returned to where she won the inaugural Morton Plant Mease sprint triathlon (.3 mile swim, 13-mile bike and 3.1-mile run) a few months back, crossing the finish line Saturday in 4:27:31 for 252nd place. "Obviously, (this race) is on a much larger scale," said Gollnick, 36. "Probably the greatest thing is there's athletes from all over the world. ... For me to be able to race on this level and compete against that caliber of athlete right near home is fantastic."

Times staff writer Scott Purks and Times correspondent Jessica Mundie contributed to this report.