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Posted: December 7, 2006

Triathlon: NBC Hawaii Ironman Tugs at Heart Strings. Oh, Yes, and There’s a Race

Austin’s Desiree Ficker finishes second (Photo: Lynne Bermel, Runners Web)

Get out your tissues. It’s time for the Ford Ironman World Championships. This year’s edition is set to air on Saturday, December 9th from 4 to 6 p.m. on NBC.

Peter Henning, the show’s executive producer, says the broadcast will serve up the usual fare of heart-rending human interest stories in addition to the efforts of some of the most talented endurance athletes in the world. Although the show has made a few changes this year, that combination has translated into 13 Emmys over the years.

One change this year is a move to a 2-hour broadcast.” “We also shot in high definition,” says Henning. “I wish everyone could see it. It makes for a powerful image to see the visceral and emotional feelings of the event captured this way.”

Phil Liggett is out this year. Instead, NBC will have Al Trautwig carry the show on his own, with some help from the athletes. In fact, this year, the athletes, themselves, describe what they go through as they get tossed around in the Pacific Ocean or what it feels like to cycle through the lava fields. That job used to be left up to Trautwig as a voice over. “It should make it much more entertaining,” says Henning.

He says the biggest challenge was finding a way to cram hundreds of hours of “captivating footage” into a two hour television production. So the 6.7 magnitude earthquake that rattled the Island and made headlines less than a week before the race didn’t make it in. “It was a non- story.”

Neither did the controversy surrounding Normann Stadler’s refusal to wear the ceremonial headpiece at the finish line (which saw the penitent winner apologize to the Island gods the following day in a cleansing ceremony).

“We beat up enough on Normann last year when we showed him having a hissy fit at the side of the Queen K highway,” Henning explained. “We had long talks with him this year. He was apologetic.”

Photo of David Samson is from Robert Vigon/Marlins

David Samson of the Florida Marlins is someone who will feature prominently in this year’s show. The first president of any major sports team to cross the finish line in Kona, the 38-year old Samson said he was captivated by the Ironman years ago after seeing it on TV.

“I remember, as clear as day, watching Rick and Dick Hoyt on what seemed to be an insurmountable journey at the time. Life sidetracked me for awhile, then, last year, I saw a guy with shaved legs. I asked him if he was a model. He said, “No, I’m an Ironman.” So I shaved my legs, figuring I was on my way. I didn’t realize how hard it was.”

Rick and Dick Hoyt (Photo: New York Road Runners)

Henning hopes Samson’s presence will bring a whole new legion of fans to help spike the show’s ratings.

It should help that American Desiree Ficker pulled off a stunning upset to finish second in the women’s race. You can expect the blonde poster girl from Austin, Texas to get some solid air time on Saturday.

So what else is in store? An emotional farewell from Rick and Dick Hoyt, racing their fifth and final Hawaii Ironman World Championship. You can also expect to see an inspiring piece on Iraq war veteran and amputee athlete David Rozelle as well as tribute to ALS sufferer Johnny Blais, “Blazeman,” who starred in last year’s show, as he cheers on his teammates from his wheelchair.

Oh, and yes, don’t forget, there’s also a race to watch. In fact, mixed in among the human interest stories, expect to see one of the closest and most exciting finishes in the 28-year history of the race.

© Copyright 2006 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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