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Posted: August 29, 2005

Triathlon: Chris Lieto wins 2005 Ironman Canada. Lessing fades to 4th

By Lynne Bermel

An estatic Chris Lieto wins the second Ironman of his career. Photo: Steve Bower/

Penticton, B.C (August 28, 2005) – The 23rd annual Subaru Ironman Canada had more than a few surprises in store this year as 2,200 athletes competed for the $75,000 prize purse and a chance for one of the 100 qualifying spots for the Hawaii Ironman Championships later this year.

The weather network had called for a 60% chance of rain but instead, the athletes found they were greeted by sunny skies and temperatures that hit upwards of 33 degrees, making the 42.2 KM marathon around Skaha Lake one of the toughest on record.

Chris Lieto readies to pass Simon Lessing just after the 100kms aid station. Photo: Steve Bower/

Lots of hype surrounded the men’s race with 5-time world short course champion and Lake Placid Ironman winner Simon Lessing anxious to chase his demons after having dropped out of Ironman Coeur D’Alene earlier this summer. Also in the mix was Chris Lieto, a former water polo player from Danville, California, winner of the 2002 Ironman Wisconsin. Eneko Llanos of Spain was another pre-race favourite, as the winner of the World Long Course Championships last year. Germany’ Stephan Vuckovic, the Olympic silver medalist from Sydney (behind Simon Whitfield) was the dark horse, having never raced an Ironman, in fact he’d been away from racing for the past 14 months!

Simon Lessing is consoled by his wife, former pro triathlete Lisa Lahiti at the finish line. Photo: Steve Bower/

On the women’s side, the race was more wide open, with the absence of 2-time winner Lisa Bentley who had already qualified for the world championships in Hawaii. Florida’s Heather Gollnick, a mother of 3 with three Ironman wins to her credit, and Desiree Ficker, a promising 28-year old from Boulder, Colorado, were the competitors to watch.

As expected, Germany’s Jan Sibbersen was first out of the water in 46:56. He’s led the swim in the last 4 Hawaii Ironmans. What was surprising was how close Simon Lessing came out behind …less than 6 seconds back. Eventual race winner Chris Lieto was 5 minutes back.

The race blew open on the bike when Lieto ate up 8 minutes to arrive in T2 2 minutes ahead of Lessing. “I think Simon pushed too hard on the bike at the beginning. I don’t know if it was because he wanted to get a buffer on me but it was hard to reel him in. He had 5-6 minutes on me in the first 35 miles. All of a sudden, when we got to the back side of the course, I started to reel him in.” Lieto’s bike split of 4:25:26 smashed the course record, held by Thomas Hellreigel.

Conditions went from bad to worse on the run course as the temperature hit a blistering 33 degrees. Lieto looked comfortable through the early stages while Lessing struggled and started slowing. Lieto passed Lessing at the 15 mile mark and didn’t look back to take his first Subaru Ironman Canada win in 8:33:32. He managed to hold off a fast closing Vuckovic who passed Lessing at the 21.5 mile mark. To add insult to Lessing’s injury, Toronto’s Nigel Gray passed him within the final 300 metres to take third. Lessing had to be taken off to the medical tent as soon as he crossed the finish line.

Women’s race winner Karen Holloway at the finish line. Photo: Steve Bower/

On the women’s side, Karen Holloway, running under Canadian and US flags (she was born in Quebec but lives in Richmond, Virginia) was a big surprise, having the race of her life to take the women’s title. Heather Gollnick, feeling the effects of Ironman Lake Placid 5 weeks ago, dropped out, as did Desiree Ficker, who struggled throughout the early miles of the run and called it a day. A surprised Paolina Allan grabbed second in a time of 9:54:25 with a strong 3:28:18 run split while fellow Canadian Christine Fletcher took third in 9:58:13.

Top 5 Men
Chris Leito (Danville, California)  8:33:32
Stephan Vuckovic (Germany)   8:36:34
Nigel Gray (Toronto)  8:42:15
Simon Lessing (UK) 8:43:13
Chris McDonald (New Zealand)  8:47:10

Top 5 Women
Karen Holloway (Richmond, VA) 9:51:31
Paolina Allan (Aurora, Ont)  9:54:25
Christine Fletcher (Vancouver, BC)  9:58:13
Marilyn MacDonald (Taber, Alberta)  10:00:39
Sara Gross (Edinburgh, Scotland) 10:03:55

Complete results and photos are available from

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:

You can access previous columns by Lynne at: LB_Columns

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