Ironman 70.3: A test of will, race of hope

THE Ironman 70.3 Philippines unwraps Sunday at the posh Mactan Newtown in Lapu-Lapu City with close to 2,000 athletes from 46 countries all primed for a new racing experience on a race course modified to whip up the chase for top honors.

Twelve titles are up for grabs in various age-group categories from 18-24 to 75-above with the overall championship in the 1.9-km swim, 90-km bike and 21-km run event put up by Megaworld and presented by AIA Vitality to go the fittest, strongest and toughest of the lot.

Czech Petr Lukosz sets off as the marked man  in his age division (40-44) and in the overall race.

The 40-year-old campaigner is going into the event brimming with confidence after ruling the full Ironman race in Subic last March.

But a slew of others are out to foil his bid, including Filipinos Jethro Ramos and Satar Salem, along with aces from noted triathlon hubs Australia, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, China and the United States.

The chase kicks off at 6:20 a.m. at the Mactan Newtown beach in a rolling start with each given 70 minutes to finish the swim leg. The bike cutoff is five hours and 30 minutes while participants are given eight hours and 30 minutes to finish the closing run event.

With the titles still to be disputed, organizers and local government and venue host officials have already trumpeted the successful staging of Ironman’s return to the country’s premier triathlon destination.

“It has been quite a journey to finally return here since 2019. It’s just remarkable to return here now to see this great energy and spirit,” said Jeff Edwards, managing director for Ironman Asia, during Friday’s press launch. “I mean, this is incredible, we really don’t see this very often in Ironman races around the world, this incredible spirit. We can sense the enthusiasm of the athletes, the spectators, the cheering residence, really looking forward to seeing this, it’s world renowned.”

Like the rest of the competitors and fans, he’s also looking forward to the highlight bike event, a 3-loop race against time at the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway, the country’s longest and tallest bridge, an 8.9-km modern toll road in Metro Cebu which hovers 52 meters above the Mactan Channel.

“The bike course is going to be spectacular. I think it’s going to be an incredible visual experience and I think people are gonna come back,” Edwards added.

While organizing Sunrise Events Inc. founder Fred Uytengsu agrees that Ironman’s return to Cebu was far from being ideal, he takes pride in being able to put it back in the mainstream with the full support of all the stakeholders in a celebration of hope and coming together not only of the triathletes from all over but also of all the Filipinos.

“It’s been quite a while since we have raced in Cebu, so keep in mind that this a rebuilding year. We’re coming on the heels of a massive typhoon, so together with the province of Cebu and all the municipalities, please understand that we’re not what we were three years ago,” Uytengsu said.

“But a big thanks to all the mayors from all the cities and municipalities, who have come together to help us make this race very special,” he added.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junar Chan, for his part, said hosting the blue-ribbon event took a lot of hard work since the city was among those hardest hit by super Typhoon Odette.

“Actually, hosting this Ironman 70.3 is not easy. But the city of Lapu-Lapu is very thankful for choosing (us) to be the venue for the race. So rest assured we will always support this event, which also serves as a big boost to the local economy,” Chan said.

“Six months ago, we really didn’t know that we are coming back here given the Covid and typhoon Odette concerns. But we were able to make it, even drawing close to 2,000 participants,” said The Ironman Group/Sunrise Events Inc. general manager Princess Galura.

She noted the event featured 1,200 entries when they launched it in 2012 and the field grew to 2,500 in pre-pandemic.

“So we’re back here in Cebu with more than we had asked for and we’re building this race to be the best in Asia,” Galura added.