Saturday, August 1, 2009

K-Town Pre Race

An article outlining a friendly rivalry with Ottawa athlete Rick Hellard.

Ready to tri again

Posted 5 hours ago

In the days following the 2008 Kingston Triathlon, a friend sent elite triathlete/ironman Mike Neill a copy of the story that appeared in this paper the next day.

In the piece, race-winner Rick Hellard threw down the gauntlet on fellow four-time winner Neill, a Limestone lad who had moved west a few years back and missed the 2008 K-Town Tri.

"One of these days," Hellard declared into the tape recorder, "I'm going to beat him on his own course, and there's something in the back of my mind that tells me I will."

Today, on the eve of the 26th instalment of the popular K-Town Tri, that same something is telling Hellard to bite his tongue a tad and reign in those premature notions.

"Unfortunately, I don't quite feel the same way now," conceded the Ottawa product, who last year, at age 42, became the event's oldest champion.

"I'm in good bike shape but my run is questionable."

Despite a sparkling record in 10 K-Town Tri appearances (in the money every time with four wins, three seconds, two-thirds), Hellard has never beaten Neill.

The last time they met, two summers ago in Kingston, Neill blew away the field in posting an impressive wire-to-wire win. Runnerup Hellard followed him home just under four minutes later.

"Mike's a formidable adversary," the latter pointed out. "I think he'll have to have an off-day for me or anyone else to beat him."

Reached at home in Victoria, B. C., Neill, 37, laughed as he re -collected Hellard's good-natured challenge in his hometown fish-wrap.

"After I read it, I thought maybe I should go gunning for him, plan my trip home to coincide with the triathlon and go after him."


Turning serious, he lauded Hellard's longevity in the sport and an ability to remain an elite triathlete at age 43.

"Rick was one of the top triathletes back when I was still playing minor hockey and hadn't even heard of the sport," he recalled.

"He still is. Anyone who sticks around that long and remains competitive deserves admiration."

For four-time champs Neill and Hellard, this K-Town Tri represents a drive for five, a trail already blazed in the short-course race by Lianne Morrisette.

The local woman, who captured five consecutive short-course crowns (2004-08), tackles the long course this time around.

"I kept telling myself after each (short-course) win that I'd try the long course next year," said the 39-year-old who qualified for Ironman Canada this year.

"After the fifth one, I said that's it -- long course for sure next year, and here we are."

The K-Town Tri is a self-perpetuating success story that has maintained momentum practically from the day Marcus Boyle snapped the finish-line tape at the 1984 inaugural, which, for some strange reason -- strange given the date -- was called the Kingston Bicentennial Triathlon. (The city's bicentennial blowout is slated for 2046.)

The field in the 26th edition of this swim-cycle-scoot test just happens to be the largest ever, 655 entrants in three races, including 20 teams in the relay class.

"We closed registration two weeks ago," said co-race director Mike Broekhoven. "We've had to do that the last five or six years.

"The venue makes it special," he added. "It's very fan-friendly with the transition areas in Confederation Basin and the run along the waterfront. It's certainly better than having it at some conservation area."

As with any successful venture, an army of selfless volunteers keep the K-Town Tri ticking and on time, year in, year out. Some 400 unpaid lifeguards, scuba divers, kayakers, boaters water-station crew, bike-check crew, body markers, bike marshals, traffic controllers, medical staff, food distributors, photographers, security and finish-line specialists are lending a helping hand this year.

"You have to have a good team of volunteers and we happen to have the top A-team," said corace director Joe Putos.

Facilitating the process is a seasoned organizing committee.

"The majority of us have been involved for 10 years or more," noted Putos, who's working his 21st K-Town Tri; 16th for colleague Broekhoven.

"That's a lot of experience, enough to divvy up the jobs, anyway."

"No question, the athletes come because of the course," added Putos.

"The venue sells itself, with the downtown setting and the run along the waterfront, and the new people us they love the atmosphere the city provides."

Loyalist Collegiate grad Neill listed his home course as among his favourites, this from someone who's knocked off two dozen Ironmans and more than 150 triathlons worldwide.

"Talk to anyone in the sport, Simon, anyone," he said, dropping a reference to sometimes swimming partner Simon Whitfield.

"The Kingston triathlon has the neatest, coolest venue anywhere. You start and finish (the run) right in front of historic City Hall, the bike station's directly across (Ontario) Street, the lake's right there.

"It seems like the whole day takes place down there."

Though it's garnered a well-deserved reputation for efficiency, hiccups have occurred.

Broekhoven recalled a triathlon from yesteryear, back when the Island Queen tour boat brought swimmers to a start line.

Evidently someone on board forgot to drop anchor.

"The boat drifted about 500 metres away from the start line," said Broekhoven.

"Instead of a 750-metre swim, that group of swimmers had an extra 500 metres tacked on. Some of them couldn't understand why their (swim) time was so slow."

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