Some of the divisions racing in the annual Vancouver Triathlon and Triathlon World Championships this past weekend saw the swim leg replaced with another run section after the waters of English Bay were too cold and rough on Saturday. They were the lucky ones it seemed, with water temperatures up to five degrees Celsius colder than usual, and several athletes finishing their races early with hypothermia.
It may have been the coldest swim in world championship history, followed by colder than normal air temperatures — eight degrees Celsius — for the bike and running leg. At one point, organizers even considered canceling the event due to the risk of hypothermia.
Despite the conditions, roughly 35,000 spectators turned out to Stanley Park to watch 600 of the world’s top triathletes go head to head for cash prizes and spots in the 2008 Summer Games.
The course was Olympic distance, with a 1,500 metre swim, a 40 km bike and a 10 km run.
Canada managed two men the top-10 in the world championship race, with 2000 Olympic champion Simon Whitefield in sixth place and Paul Tichelaar ninth. Whitefield’s time was one hour, 50 minutes and 27 seconds, less than a minute back of champion Javier Gomez of Spain.
On the women’s side it was Helen Tucker of Great Britain who finished on top in 2:01:37, followed by Sarah Haskins of the U.S. in 2:01:41 and Samantha Warriner of New Zealand in 2:02:32.
The top Canadian was Kathy Tremblay in 2:05:24, ranked 21 st overall.
While none of Whistler’s athletes competed in the elite category, a handful of locals were among the 2,000-plus athletes that competed in their age groups.
Emma Smith, a part-time Whistler resident, competed in the women’s 25 to 29 race, placing 13 th out of 95 finishers with a time of 2:07:38.
Christine Suter also raced, placing 28 th in the 40 to 44 age category with a time of 2:24:20. She had a fast swim, seventh out of the water out of more than 60 athletes in her category, and 20 th on the bike leg where she was disqualified for the first time in a career that has included several dozen triathlons.
Suter finished the race, and then appealed the disqualification. Her warning was for drafting, which Suter denies — she thought she was far enough behind the rider in front of her, and both riders were following a safe route through a rough section of road. She was then disqualified when she found herself behind another slower rider, and decided to pull out to be safe — only to have the same the marshall called her for blocking, even though she did a shoulder check and there were no riders directly behind her.
Despite the cold swim and conflict on the bike, Suter was happy with her day.
“I might have done even better if I hadn’t been disqualified, it’s hard to push yourself when you think you’re disqualified and it’s not going to count,” she said. “Still, I was with a really competitive group, and 28 th is pretty good all things considered.”
The toughest part of the day was the swim, which she says was the toughest of any race she’s entered.
“It was freezing, and right before we started it was almost as if a little squall kicked up,” she said. “The lifeguards were actually upset that (the organizers) let the heats go because they already had four boats capsize, I heard, and said they couldn’t be responsible for safety because they couldn’t get to people.
“It was one of the hardest swims I’ve ever done, and just one of the roughest. You were really getting sloshed around. I’ve done open water swims in Hawaii, and I’ve done the open water race from West Vancouver to Kitsilano twice, and I’ve never had to swim in anything like that.”
The fact that the air temperature was colder than the water also made things tough on the bike leg, although she warmed up on the run leg.
Now Suter is chalking up the race as a learning experience.
“It’s always a learning experience,” she said. “It’s great to train for something, but you never know what to expect on race day. You really need to be ready for anything.”
Suter’s next event is the Half Iron is Osyoos, followed by Ironman Canada in Penticton.