By Bill Plock
The authentic joy Lucy Charles Barclay beamed to the world the second she broke the tape is something I’ll never forget. It gave me goosebumps and seemed deep-seated, especially as she came to hug her husband with tears running down her face. I have never seen or felt such happiness.
Barclay, like all the athletes, battled very unusual weather with a downpour of rain and hail, and lightning that threatened the race. With a Barclay comfortably in the lead all day, she knew she was having “a day” and said at the press conference recalling her thoughts, “they better not cancel this race!”
Gustav Iden of Norway didn’t quite lead the entire way but went to the front of the pack on the bike partway through and never looked back. Fellow countryman and gold medalist Kristian Blummenfelt was in that lead group when he suffered a serious mechanical failure with his wheel and fell out of contention. Boulder’s Sam Long, with a solid swim, battled hard to ride into second place never did catch Iden. Iden won by 5 minutes retaining the World Champion status he gained after winning in Nice in 2019.
The second-place finishes for Long and another Boulder resident, Jeanni Metzler may be a glimpse into the future of the sport. Just two years ago Long finish 26 minutes back and has kept a poster of Nice in his “pain cave” as motivation ever since. Metzler has been climbing the ranks and finished 3rd in Boulder a few weeks ago behind Taylor Knibb and Emma Palant Brown, but in St. George she beat both of them.
Metzler passed Knibb just a few minutes out saying later, “I didn’t want a sprint finish with Taylor as I don’t think that would’ve gone well.” Knibb finished about 30 seconds back and the two training partners and friends shared exuberant hugs in the finish area.
It felt like the finish area was filled with camaraderie and respect, unlike any race I had seen before. This wasn’t “new blood” so to speak, but in a way it felt like a new group of champions and future champions were making their mark in St. George. At the press conference, the top five male and female finishers all were under the age of 28. It’s a young group who genuinely seem to enjoy each other.
Of the ten, eight raced together at the Collins Cup just four weeks prior. When asked if that played into the feeling of camaraderie, Sam Long said, “I do think we all got to know each other there. It also could be because we are all pretty young, it was a bit of a different atmosphere. And I also think the sport is changing, where you can talk smack but in a friendly way and at the end everyone knows it is for fun.”
Besides Coloradans, Long, Metzler, and Knibb, several age-group athletes made it in the top five. In no particular order. Colleen D’Reuck, Diana Hassel, Mike Wein, Eric Long (Sam’s dad), and Sandi Wiebe.
So what about Kona maybe moving to St. George?
St. George is an iconic venue with massive hills to run up and down. And the ride up Snow Canyon provides a separation point (along with an amazing picturesque backdrop) just before athletes start their run. There is speculation that the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona will move in the future and St. George seems primed to be a top choice. It has all the features that make a world championship course with hills, weather exposure, and a welcoming community and a downtown finish with plenty of potential to the house larger crowds seen in Kona. It is certainly more accessible than Kona and far less expensive for athletes, spectators and industry supporters.
Sand Hollow reservoir is great for the swim with plenty of room for transition. In Kona the iconic pier is busting at the seams with room (barely) for 1,800 athletes. In St. George 4,200 athletes competed. Undoubtedly the age group women probably don’t love the current format with the last group starting their swim at almost 10 o’clock. In normal years that would force them to be running at the hottest part of the day. This year, some had to be pulled out of the water with the rare thunderstorm that rolled through.
In previous years, the 70.3 Championship features two days of racing—one for the men and one for the women. In St. George that seems a difficult task with races not generally taking place on Sundays in Utah. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. Next year the 70.3 Championship will return to St. George along with a full distance race in June. We shall see!
But for now, the young group of pro’s stole the show and perhaps this race will serve as a springboard for future success for all of these athletes as they scatter into the world doing more races. In fact, watch this coming weekend in Chattanooga where Sam Long will attempt defend his title as champion and battle rival Lionel Sander—keep an eye on that!