As I was looking through some old newspaper clippings of mine, as you do at my age to relive the old glory days (!!), I realised that August 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the first international triathlon in Bermuda.
I recall the excitement amongst the local triathlon community and and the Bermuda public in general when the race was announced. An international triathlon in Bermuda with $100,000 in prize money matched only at that time by just one other triathlon in the world, the Gold Coast Triathlon in Australia. With worldwide coverage on television this event was a big coup for Bermuda.
The event was the brainchild of a colourful Irish rugby player, Patrick O’Riordan, who lived in Bermuda at that time, and there were those who thought that such a major undertaking could not be done.
But it did go ahead and the organisation was superb. The 1500m swim was held off the race headquarters, the Southampton Princess Hotel, and both professionals and amateurs had to swim along the shoreline and then out to the reefline and back to shore. I recall some very nervous locals who had entered the amateur race practising the swim from the shore to the reefs and being more than a little scared !
Transition was in the car park with a climb up to South Shore for the 40km out and back bike that had 180 degree turns at both Paynter’s Road and by Church Bay and ended at the Bermuda Regiment car park. The only glitch with the out and back course was that with Bermuda’s narrow roads and so much prize money at stake the pro bike race became a bit if a draft fest ( not allowed in those days) and race referee Tom Smith, another no nonsense local rugby player, had no qualms about DQ’uing some of the worst offenders. At that time drafting was an automatic DQ after a warning.
What was extraordinary was that O’Riordan and his team managed to get volunteers to man just about every road and driveway that intersected the route which was completely traffic free. Equally extraordinary was the number of supporters who came out to watch the race. I can recall coming along South Shore with thousands of people lining the road at such an early hour of the morning with their newspaper race special ( an eight page special in the Mid Ocean News) which had everyone’s race numbers so they could cheer competitors on.
The tough 10km run course in hot and humid conditions took competitors along South Shore to Cobbs Hill and over to Middle Road and then up the back driveway hill to the Southampton Princess ; a hilly course with a brutal ending !!
Sadly there were not really that many overseas amateur entries but the local amateur entry made up for that. The professional field was a ” who’s who” of the best international triathletes in the world at the time, including the “big four” men as they were known, Mark Allen, Dave Scott, Scott Molina and Scott Tinley, legends in the sport. Also in the field was the new super star Mike Pigg, who had laid claim to be included in the “big five”, and young 15 year old sensation Lance Armstrong ( yes, the same Lance Armstrong). The best Europeans were also there, including Holland’s Rob Barel and multiple European and UK champion Glenn Cook and another star UK triathlete Robin Brew ( who was later Flora Duffy’s coach when she went to high school in the UK). Canada was also well represented with Andrew McNaughton and Richard Browne and New Zealand’s Rick Wells also one to watch. Added to that were a number of up and coming triathletes including Ken Glah and Clark Campbell of the USA.The women’s field was equally impressive with the very best in the world including the USA’s Linda , New Zealand’s favorite Erin Baker, the UK champion Sarah Springman and another pre race favorite Kirsten Hanssen of the USA. The legendary Puntous twins, who also went on to make their name in Ironman racing, were a star attraction as well.
And to add local interest in the professional ranks, Tony Ryan and Dyrone Minors and running legend Sandra Mewett chose to enter the professional wave.
Mark Allen, the pre race favorite ran his way to the title with Kirsten Hanssen taking overall women’s honours. Local Tony Ryan finished in just over 2 hours 1 min to finish 20th amongst the pro men and took home $500 in prize money whilst Greg Hopkins had a disappointing race for him finishing in 2 hr 07 mins but first amateur overall and received an all expenses holiday for two in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Ryan might have wished that he had entered the amateur division !!). Youngster Kavin Smith, who went on to become a 9 time winner of the May 24th Marathon Derby, was 3rd Bermudian, winning the 25-29 age group.
Sandra Mewett was the first local woman in 2 hrs 29 mins 09 secs ahead of Peggy Couper and Cathy Gurret.
The race came back to Bermuda in 1988 with a loop bike course but problems with church complaints about access to church services led to the race sadly dying a death the following year amongst great controversy.
6 weeks later my son Simon was born on the day of the biggest local event in Bermuda. He appeared on his due date, 20th September 1987, the day of the SunLife Bermuda Triathlon which had 134 individual senior entries after a record 167 teams of three had raced the week before ( there were no junior races at that time) . I started the race, had a major tyre blowout and made it to the hospital with plenty of time to spare !!
Simon turns 30 this year ofcourse !!