Today, August 9, would have been the ninth edition of the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 race here in Cebu. It was in August 2012 when triathletes first dove into the white sand shores of Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort and swam 1.9 kms., when they pedaled 90 kms. to do loops around the South Road Properties (SRP), and when they ran a half-marathon under the scorching noontime heat in Punta Engaño.
Before 7 a.m. today, the starting gun would have been fired in Mactan as thousands of hearts from all over the globe would have started the swim-bike-race craze that’s nicknamed IM70.3.
Wilfred Steven Uytengsu, Jr. is the man responsible for bringing the Ironman brand to the Philippines. He’s Cebuano. We know plenty of successful Cebu-based businessmen family-named Uytengsu.
Fred was born here in Cebu City. And though he was raised in Manila and studied college in America, where better to bring triathlon than a place you call home: Cebu.
“It’s unfortunate that we won’t be able to stage the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 event for obvious reasons,” Fred wrote me yesterday. “This event is world recognized and popular with many professional and age group triathletes. It also brings a lot of tourism dollars to Cebu.”
Each August for the past eight years, an estimated 10,000 people — including 2,500 triathletes — converge in Cebu for this spectacle. Organized by Sunrise Events, Inc., the Cebu race is often recognized as one of the world’s best, twice hosting the Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championships. Participants get to compete alongside pros like Tim Reed, Mauricio Mendez, Belinda Granger and Caroline Steffen.
Back in 2014 when I joined as runner for a relay team, one of the bike relay participants was Pete Jacobs. He was the 2012 Ironman World Championships (Kona, Hawaii) winner. While Pete Jacobs was readying his bike before the Cebu race began, he kept looking at the bike beside him (a sleek Pinarello) and wondered who professional might be beside him. It was my bike relay teammate and best friend Dr. Ronald Eullaran! I can’t think of any other event where you get to stand and prepare beside the world champion.
With the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 race, this 2020, we were struck by Covid-19. And though Sunrise Events, through the indefatigable general manager Princess Galura, did all it could to prepare for the race, there was no stopping this ruthless virus.
“We are guided by ‘safety first’ even as Cebu is on GCQ,” said Fred, bowing to this unseen enemy that has disturbed all sporting events worldwide.
“We would have had to be comfortable enough with our revised safety protocols to hold an event amidst the pandemic and this would have resulted in a drastically smaller race,” said Fred.
“So while we are all disappointed, we realize we are dealing with a much bigger issue and we all have to do our part to observe safety and help mitigate the risks of Covid-19.”
As for the sport of triathlon, Mr. Uytengsu believes that, while racing is on a hiatus, the urge to train and compete will return.
“Once the situation improves,” he said, “I believe triathletes will resume their usual training regimen and the sport of triathlon (and Ironman) will continue to flourish in the Philippines and around the world.”
“Triathlon is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle,” he said. “So many people are new to the sport and are just getting situated. I expect the pent up demand to result in a lot of racing… hopefully in 2021.”
Fred Uytengsu added: “We hope to return to Cebu to continue this great tradition.”