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Kalmar Järnmannen 1996Kalmar, Sweden
Swim ~1.8K * Bike 180K * Run 42K
|Men 35 - 44|
|Men 45 +|
In modern days, the Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and Danes do battle by swimming, cycling and running, at least during the short summers. Thus, the Kalmar "Jarnmannen" Triathlon. Tomas Gustavsson, a former teammate of mine on the Swedish National Team, had been working for some years to gain the support for a Swedish Ironman distance triathlon, and in 1994, he finally got all the pieces together. He ended up racing and taking second place. And in 1995, he won the race outright under absolutely perfect weather conditions. This year, however, would prove different.
First of all the weather didn't cooperate. The day before the race had pouring rain and strong winds--bad even for those accustomed to the worst a Swedish summer can offer. As is often the case this time of year, however, the weather turned around literally overnight and the morning of the race offered a calm sea and only partly cloudy skies. The weather pattern was almost identical to the one at the Ironman New Zealand, earlier this year. However, due to the rather severe weather the days leading up to the race, the water temperature was an unseasonably cool 14 degrees Celsius. Therefore, according to the Swedish Triathlon Regulations, the swim was shortened from the customary 3,800 meters to 2,000 meters--it would turn out the swim was actually only about 1,700 meters.
Most triathletes would look at this shorter swim as a blessing. But not Jonas Colting, the former Swedish Junior National Triathlon Champion. A very strong swimmer, he was arguing for the traditional distance: "Nobody said it was going to be easy to do an Ironman. If you are doing an Ironman, that's 3,800 meters of swimming." He is right, of course, but one or two hours in frigid water is probably not very safe, even if you are padded with a wetsuit.
Of the 150 starters, Jonas was first out of the water after having been challenged by his roommate Par Hyss on the first lap of the swim. He was followed by Par and a string of other swimmers, including last year's fifth place finisher, Clas Myrestam, who lives near the Arctic Circle and is used to the cold. Clas reeled in and caught Jonas at around the 50-km mark. Two minutes back, a group of six cyclists had formed a loose pack, very obviously helped by each others presence, but probably riding no more out of bounds than I have seen at any other top race.
After 100 km, Clas Myrestam was 24 seconds ahead of Jonas who had an additional two minutes on a pack with the Swedes Tomas Gustavsson, Pasi Salonen, Patrik Tjardal, Bernhard Hirschauer and Martin Eriksson. Then Clas bonked, big time. Jonas quickly caught him. Adding insult to injury, Clas was then eaten up by the now broken up pack. At the 150 km mark, Jonas had 50 second lead on the rapidly approaching Tomas who had shaken off the others. Said he ""
It was obvious that last year's champion was playing his only strong card. Twenty kilometers later, he was still only 20 seconds ahead of Jonas who still maintained a three minute lead on Patrik Tjardal, Martin Eriksson and the advancing Anders Nilsson, all three pre-race favorites.
Also advancing was the seven-time World Champion and five-time Olympic Speed Skater Orjan Sandler, who last weekend had polished off a 2,500 meter swim and an 80 km bike with a 20 km run in 1:18. At 56 years of age, he is still able to give some of the better youngsters a real scare, particularly after announcing that he ran a PR for the half-marathon in 1:15 a few weeks ago. At the 150 km mark, he was only 6:30 behind the leader.
In the women's race--only three women entered, not sufficient for a national championship--Camilla Johansson had taken the lead out of the frigid water. She was quickly passed by Ulrika Wanggren, who advanced on the bike to build a solid lead. Known for her very strong cycling, Ulrika had entered her first ironman distance race because, "I have already done half-Ironman races and this is the next step." By the time she hit the bike to run transition, her lead was a half hour.
Tomas hit the bike to run transition 1:12 ahead of Jonas, charging onto the run course at a very ambitious pace. The run course is two-times out and back, splitting the marathon into four digestible segments. It runs parallel to the ocean, past a golf course, small beaches and through an upscale residential area. Held almost exclusively on bike paths, it is one of the nicest and "well run" runs I have seen.
At the first turn-around, Tomas was 1:50 ahead of Jonas and 3:20 ahead of Anders Nilsson. A few hundred meters later Tomas hit the wall. It was all just too much for him. Having worked months and months to organize the race, he had entered the race against better judgment, hoping his vast bank of triathlon experience would be sufficient to repeat: "This will be the last one."
At 15 km, Jonas caught him. The fading champion paid the challenger his respect: "Good work Jonas, you are strong." Shortly thereafter, Martin Eriksson caught Anders for third. Halfway through the marathon, Jonas had a 1:40 cushion to Tomas and 3:22 to Martin. Said Jonas: "I was just focusing on taking one step at a time and not get distracted by a small or a large lead."
His method worked. At the finish line, the others had faded further back and Jonas was able to collect his third Swedish gold medal, outdistancing Martin Eriksson by over five minutes. Anders Nilsson was third. At the finish line Jonas was elated: "I never thought I would be able to last the entire run, particularly after the short swim. I had to ride all by myself and didn't see anybody until Gustavsson passed me. The first part of the run was heavy, but then it got easier. At that point, I thought that I'd rather die than let go of this."
Die he didn't! Jonas showed that despite his very unfortunate accident a year ago--when he shattered the left radius bone at the elbow while training in Mallorca, Spain--he has what it takes to out endure Sweden's best. Next on the agenda is the Vansbro Swim, a cold 3 km swim in the Northern province of Dalarna: "I'll just have to look at that swim as fun."
Orjan Sandler kept up his pace throughout the run and won his age group--and the above 40 Masters Division had he been able to enter--by miles and miles: "Everything went well today, I had no down period. I was very lucky with the short swim, and the weather for the run was perfect. I ran a 3:16."
Ulrika Wanggren finished the run in 3:57 (and 21st overall) and won her first race at the distance. Said she: "Coming out of the water and getting on the bike was hard and I didn't feel I had a very good ride. My legs were so stiff that I thought that this will never work. But perhaps that was fortunate, because I was able to run the entire run segment." Viktoria Johnsson was second and Camilla Johansson captured third (these times were not available at the time this story was filed).
So, if you are interested in an extremely well-organized triathlon in reasonable temperatures in a 700-year-old city with tons of culture and history, Jarnmannen in Kalmar, Sweden is for you. And if you win, you will be treated to that special Swedish tradition of a resounding four-time "Hurrah!" by the entire audience at the awards ceremonies. In addition to the awards themselves, of course.
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