Iron-willed men and women

Mike Limpag said it best: This weekend is the biggest in Cebu sports. It’s a triumvirate: the Tri’ called Ironman 70.3, the Little Olympics of Milo and the Cesafi opening.

With the IM race, imagine the growth: six years ago in Camsur, less than 600 joined; this morning, it has quintupled.

Of the 2,500 attendees today, based on what my eyes witnessed two afternoons ago in Shangri-La, a huge majority are from outside Cebu. Including the family members accompanying the visitors, this is a massive tourism boost for Cebu — and a testament to the influence of sports.

Last Friday, we trooped to Mactan. I rode with Dr. Ron and Raycia Eullaran and we were joined, meandering through heavy traffic, by triathlete Rap Sios-e. The Marquee ballroom of Shangri-La teemed with super-fit bodies. Six packs did not have the San Mig Light logo — they were implanted on the bellies of the skinny athletes.

Our “Jack Men” team, with Rap as swimmer, Ron as biker and me as runner, waited to secure our race kits. While standing in line, we saw three doctors (as one team): James Guardiario, Tito Macarasig and Elmer Po. The process was a breeze. We received our shirts, snapped-on our wrist-bands, and our number “3360” plastered to both arms. Photos were clicked; smiles beamed aplenty. The Expo was impressive, from Aqua Sphere goggles to Saucony footwear to Cervelo P5 displays.

The pros sat on-stage during the press conference. This is what’s remarkable about this event — some of the world’s best are here. The former Kona Ironman world champ Pete Jacobs is here. (We asked for his photo during dinner but he was busy getting food.) If you’re an IM70.3 participant, you can gloat, saying, “I swam, biked and ran alongside the world’s best!” How many sports can boast the same?

Jenson Button, back after two years, joined the pros on-stage. I looked for Jessica Michibata and, yes, found Jenson’s fiancee standing just meters away. “Hi, Jessica!” I said, as we spoke for a few moments.

By 6 p.m., with a few goodies in the bag for Raycia, we paraded to the open grounds for the Carbo-Loading Party. It was a party! Lining-up the walkway were dancers from Lapu-Lapu City who donned colorful attire. Two large-screen LED screens stood to welcome the athletes. With perfect no-rain weather, the Shangri-La garden transformed into a… shangrila; a sprawling oasis perfect for dinner. A few cocktail tables stood but majority sat on the grass, covered by cloth, to carbo-load on green salad, pasta, chicken and pizza. Lechon? Ha-ha. Not yet. Not until the celebration after the race.

Dr. Tony San Juan got hefty servings, getting ready to do the full 113 kms. We ate with Jun Angeles and Darwin Herbas. Kudos to Lapu-Lapu City, led by Mayor Paz Radaza and the city’s head of sports and tourism, the marathoner Hembler Mendoza, for a superb welcome dinner.

Of today’s weather and because this is an outdoor race that may span up to seven hours, the sun-or-rain hide-and-seek plays a vital role. The past week has been difficult for the swimmers. “We swam for 25 minutes and were still stuck at the same spot,” Ken Salimbangon, who’ll do his second full IM race, told me. The waves and current have been strong. But, thankfully, the past day or so have seen sunny days — and hopefully more calming waters, especially in the early hours (before 7 a.m.) when the swim leg begins.

Rain is preferred to the sun. The best: overcast, cloudy skies. For the run portion, many will be battling the 21K between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — the deadliest period of the day. A drizzle would be welcome.

Finally, some statistics for the race: 40 countries are represented with the most entries coming from Singapore (141). The U.S. is next with 54 followed by 45 Australians. Although women are most welcome, the ratio of individual participants (not relay) is disproportionate: 85 percent are male. This means extra kudos to the women in this male-dominated event that is, after all, called IronMAN.

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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