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Posted: November 10, 2005

Triathlon: Trautwig and Liggett talk about NBC Ironman TV Special

What makes the Ford Ironman World Championship such a compelling event? It’s likely the only sport in the world where people are as interested in who finishes last than in who crosses the line first. It’s the raw emotion – the triumph of the human spirit - that transcends pure sport.

Runners Web was part of yesterday’s Ironman Media Conference Call on NBC’s Ford Ironman World Championship. The TV special – which has won 13 Emmy Awards in as many years - is scheduled to air this Saturday, November 12.

Al Trautwig

Phil Liggett

Al Trautwig (left), award-winning broadcaster, was joined on the call by Phil Liggett (right), renowned sports expert, best known for his Tour de France commentary, Sarah Reinersten, an above-the-knee amputee who will be featured on the show, along with Peter Henning, its executive producer.

Trautwig and Henning had just come back from the final hours of editing on the production floor. They’d worked through literally hundreds of hours of tape to get to the 63 minute show that will run from 4:30 to 6:00 after the Notre Dame vs Navy football game.

“We need more emotional television in sports,” said Trautwig, who hosts the show and writes its storyline. [In fact, he’s won 2 Emmy’s for writing on NBC’s Ironman.]

Trautwig, who’s announced the last seven Olympics, and has hosted World Cup Soccer and the New York City Marathon as well as many other international sporting events, was visibly moved by the race.

“If you do one thing in this world, stand at the finish line of the Ironman at midnight as people are coming in. It’s a life-changing experience,” he said.

According to Henning, Trautwig broke down several times in the studio while recording the story of Johnny “Blazeman” Blais who finished the Ironman though suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“The story is as much about Blais as it is a story of his parents. They watch him, and they want him to do it so badly. The thing is, he’s not going to be here next year. He doesn’t have a next season.” said Trautwig.

While Sarah Reinersten (left), who failed to finish last year, will be a key part of the show, Henning calls Blazeman its “heart and soul.”

Reinertsen took a little more than 15 hours to finish this year. A triumph, to be sure, after being coming up 14 minutes short last year on the bike.

Viewers will remember the cameras catching her heartbreaking reaction to the news on last year’s show. Sarah is challenged, yes, but she showed the world that “able” is the bigger part of the word “disabled”.

“While the human drama will be front and centre, viewers will not be disappointed with the amount of actual race coverage this year,” said Henning.

He admitted that it was a challenge striking a balance between the two. “So much of it depends on the dictates of the race.

Last year, we didn’t have a men’s race at all, with Stadler so far out front. This time, we have so many great stories, including exciting and close races for both the men and women. Elite pros validate what the age groupers go through.”

He added: “It’s a tough task trying to compete against college football. The problem with the Ironman is that it’s still a niche sport. Natascha Badmann and Faris Al-Sultan aren’t household names in the States. Nor is American Tim DeBoom, even though he’s won this race twice. Human interest stories carry emotion more than sport.”

“We try to present the show so that everyone can watch and appreciate it. It combines the mystical side of the island and the harshness of the elements,” added Trautwig.

Peter Henning, Executive Producer of Ironman TV, directs traffic and coverage at the finish line in Kona (Photo: Steve Bower)

Phil Liggett, who has covered 33 Tour de France events, says you can’t compare covering the Tour, which focuses on the yellow jersey and who is at the front of the peleton to the Ironman.

“They’re two very different events. In the Ironman, even the winner who finished the race 8 hours earlier is there at the finish to cheer on the final competitors coming in at 17 hours. The friendship inside the sport is special. It will engender big audiences when comes to the small screen,” he said.

He says this year’s race was the best he’d seen in years. “It’s the closest we’ve seen in a while and as exciting as when Mark Allen overtook Dave Scott for his dramatic win (in 1989).”

Asked if he was concerned that the popularity of reality TV shows would affect his ratings, Henning replied, “Not at all. In fact, the Ironman was really the first reality show on TV. “

Editor’s Note: If the Notre Dame football game that precedes it overruns its scheduled 4:30 finish by more than an hour or so, the Ironman will be aired on November 27th. Copies of the NBC special will be available on Monday, 14 November at

© 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:

You can access previous columns by Lynne at: LB_Columns

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