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Posted: October 13, 2005

Triathlon: Oh Canada - Canadians among the best at World Ironman Championships

Kona, Hawaii (Oct. 12, 2005) --What’s with those Canucks? Is it in the water? Per capita, Canada has tasted victory more times any other country at the Ford Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

Not bad for a place that’s covered in snow five months of the year.

While Simon Whitfield brought triathlon into Canadian consciousness with his Olympic win in Sydney, one of the best kept secrets in sport is the number of times the Maple Leaf has come across the line first at the Hawaii Ironman. With a mind-numbing 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike and 42 km run, the Ironman is the ultimate in triathlons and the benchmark against which all extreme sporting challenges are measured.

Ken Parker, coach and a founder of the National Capital Marathon, as well as ACT’s Volunteer of the Year, says it’s not surprising that Canadians would excel at Ironman. “Our winters force patience on our Ironman athletes. I can’t think of another race where an athlete is on his or her own for 8 to 10 hours. Maybe it’s that Canadians still have that do-or-die frontier attitude that settled this country.”

Canada’s Midas touch started here with Montreal twins Sylviane and Patricia Puntous who were fixtures on the leader boards in the early to mid ‘80s.

The torch was picked up by Stony Plain, Alberta’s Heather Fuhr who stole the biggest surprise victory in the history of the women’s race in 1997. Since then, Fuhr has gone on to capture 14 titles on the Ironman circuit, making her the No. 2 all-time women’s winner at the distance.

Alberta's Heather Fuhr,one of the most successful triathletes in the world, wins her fifth Ironman USA title in Lake Placid this July. (Steve Bower photo)

Montreal-born Peter Reid scored another win for Canada the following year in some of the worst wind conditions ever recorded in Hawaii. It would be the first of three wins for Reid (1998, 2000 and 2003)

In 1999, Toronto’s Lori Bowden notched another win for Canada. In 2003 at Ironman’s 25th anniversary race, she and Reid made it a Canadian sweep, each reclaiming their World Championship titles.

Last year, Canada had two women in the top 5: Heather Fuhr and Caledon, Ontario’s Lisa Bentley, who has been making a rapid ascent on the Ironman circuit.

Caledon's Lisa Bentley carries the flag to victory at the 2005 Ironman Germany (IronmanLive photo)

Why have Canadians done so well here? “I am asked that question a lot, “said Heather Fuhr at this morning’s conference call with Canadian media. “I really don’t have a good answer except, perhaps, that experience counts and Canadian triathletes have plenty of it, especially in the long races.”

Success also generates confidence. Peter Reid adds: “We’ve got the momentum here in Canada, especially in the women’s field. “

Parker adds: “It’s certainly not because of any significant government support or funding. Our athletes do well in spite of the lack of external help.”

Whatever the reason, Canadians have cemented their reputations as some of the sport’s best. “Peter the Great” is looking to claim his fourth Ironman title, while Heather Fuhr and Lisa Bentley are among the favourites on the women’s side.

Oh Canada indeed.

This article was also published in the Ottawa Citizen, reprinted with permission of Lynne Bermel

© Copyright 2005 Lynne Bermel

Lynne Bermel, a former world-ranked pro Ironman competitor, is a senior marketing & PR consultant living in Ottawa. She is also a freelance writer and TV sports show host. You can reach her at: lynnebermel@rogers.com.

You can access previous columns by Lynne at: LB_Columns

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