Sports Editor; @Jack_Leahy
Reporting from Galway
Soon-to-be Trinity College student Cormac Shine has, in some slight measure, made sporting history by partaking in the first Iron Man 70.3 triathlon to be held in Ireland in Salthill, Galway.
The men’s race was won by Switzerland’s Mike Aigroz in a time of 3hrs 50mins. Lucy Gossage took the women’s title in 4hrs 21mins.
Shine, who will study History and Political Science, was part of a 2200-strong field and completed the gruelling 750m swim, 90.1km cycle and 21.1km run in 6hrs 8mins in torrid conditions along the strand.
‘I’m delighted with the time’, said Shine, ‘I’m just really delighted to have been able to cope so well. I never anticipated coming so close to the 6hr mark, not least in this weather’.
This titanic effort highlights the meteoric rise in the sporting fortunes of the triathlon debutant, whose sporting career had an inauspicious start on the ‘D’ panel of his school’s U-13 rugby team.
The day got off to an imperfect start for the 1500 Irish and 700 foreign competitors as rough seas forced the organisers to cut the distance of the swim by 1150m to 750m. Its start was also delayed by 20 minutes.
Few were those who protested, however, as the waters darkened and grew ever more menacing. ‘It was really tough out there’, said Cormac’s fellow first-time participant Caoimhe Leahy, ‘some people had to breaststroke to keep above the huge waves, which was incredible to see in a triathlon. The guys marshalling in the canoes had a tough job but got us through’.
The next leg of the journey took the competitors on a 90.1km parcours of Salthill, with all major roads closed to the public. In an incredibly Irish bout of parochialism, the Bishop of Galway and the Salthill diocese appealed in vain for less widespread closures on the grounds that mass times would be affected.
Shine recorded his best relative time through this section, one which can hardly be described as plain-sailing. A number of athletes came off their bikes due to on-track gravel, and one competitor was removed from the cycle and taken for a hot drink by a steward who noticed his violent shivering.
The torrid conditions reached their nadir in the early afternoon, but blue skies made a temporary appearance in time for Keith Duffy, Gráinne Seóige, and Ray D’Arcy to cross the line and give the saturated crowds a welcome boost.
At this stage the crowds were mainly assembled around the finishing area, and the thousands of natives did an admirable job of making each blistered, chaffed, and dehydrated competitor feel like a 100m champion. Shine produced a lactic acid-defying sprint finish to out-take four competitors and finish 50 minutes ahead of his training partner Jack O’Halloran.
Galway City Council estimates that the event provided the city with a €5m windfall. Observational evidence of every café within 2km of Salthill Strand experiencing out-the-door queues at 8am on a Sunday would support these estimations.
The Council expects that the area will see an increase in tourism in response to the successful event, though any calculations made in the heat of celebration should be tempered by the caveat that this weekend’s weather was hardly advertisement gold.
While the event was an overall success with no major logistical catastrophes, it became evident throughout the course of the weekend that the organisers had much to learn about the idiosyncratic intricacies of a triathlon.
Competitors were puzzled by the extremely long – ~1km – Transition (changeover) area, described by one seasoned triathlete as ‘the longest [she has] ever seen’. Winner Gossage added a similar sentiment through twitter. This led to the rather comical sight of competitors running barefoot, wheeling a bike for up to 5 minutes.
A few other complaints related to miscommunication and logistical oversight, but above all the weekend will be remembered for the spirit of the thousands Galwegians who lined the streets and cheered despite the elements insisting otherwise. Oh yeah, and for the fact that this fairly big international event came to Ireland. That’s pretty important too.