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Though there are more than 20 Ironman competitions held around the World, none compares to the Hawaiian Championship, which took place in the city of Kailua, Kona, on Saturday, October 8th, 2011. Now in its 33rd year, the grueling one-day event, is considered the toughest and most prestigious, of all Ironman races.
Originally started to settle a dispute among 15 Navy Seals as to which sport - swimming, running or biking, produced the strongest athlete, the event is only open to competitors who have completed a qualifying Ironman or are lucky enough to win one of the few lottery spots.
Held every fall on the second weekend in October, the course has changed little since it started, and encompasses three endurance events; a 2.4 mile ocean swim in the Kailua-Kona bay, a 112 mile bike ride across the Hawaiian Lava desert to Hawi and back, and a 26.2 mile run across the coast of the Big Island. While the Hawaiian event is no different from any other Ironman challenge in terms of distance, it is the natural environment that makes it so difficult.
With no bodysuits to buoy them, the swimmers have to work harder fighting the ocean currents and, while the bike route is relatively level, triathletes have to face strong headwinds along the entire 112 miles. By the time they are done with those two events it is mid to late afternoon, which means they not only have to run on Kona's scorching Lava fields, but also, do it at the hottest time of the day - This year, the peak temperature reached a sweltering 96°F (35°C).
Yet, it did not deter the over 1,900 entrants which included 50 professional men and 50 professional female athletes to do their utmost to at least get to the finish line within the allotted 17 hours, which for most, is enough for bragging rights.
The person who did have a lot to brag about at the end of it all was 2008 and 2009 champion, Craig Alexander. The 38-year old Australian not only became one of only four people to have ever won this race three times, but also, do it in a record time of 8hrs 3mins 56 secs. And, he is the only man to have won both the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 (half triathlon) championships, in the same year. A sweet victory for the athlete who did not place in the top three last year, and had to interrupt his training earlier this year, thanks to a cough so bad, that he cracked his ribs.
The women were no slouches either - Britain's Chrissie Wellington won her fourth Ironman title when she crossed the finish line in 8hrs 55mins 11 secs. This win was especially special since illness had prevented her from entering and accomplishing a consecutive four-peat last year. Also, she was suffering from a nasty bike rash after crashing during training, just two weeks ago.
However, no athlete went home as happy as Georgia resident Scott Rigsby - a double amputee who completed his second Ironman championship in 16 hrs 22 mins 20 secs, a full 20 minutes faster than his last attempt in 2007. What's even more amazing is that Scott, who lost both his legs in a freak accident when he was just 18, did it to raise money for wounded warriors and physically challenged youth - Which, in our minds makes him the true Ironman champion!
Sources: runnersworld.com,examiner.com,ironman.com, wikipedia.org, rogercanham.blogspot.com