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Athletes flock to triathlon capital for Saunders Subaru Half Iron

When you are on the leading edge of a sporting revolution, you don’t stop swimming, pedalling or running, and you never look over your shoulder. Victoria took to the emerging triathlon fad early on with a passionate pioneer grassroots movement.
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Irwin Tang, 31, of Fort St. John, works on his bike at Hamsterley Beach ahead of todayÍs Saunders Subaru Half Iron.

When you are on the leading edge of a sporting revolution, you don’t stop swimming, pedalling or running, and you never look over your shoulder.

Victoria took to the emerging triathlon fad early on with a passionate pioneer grassroots movement. That led to Simon Whitfield thundering off the Island to win Olympic gold at Sydney 2000 and silver at Beijing 2008, and Peter Reid and Lori Bowden becoming legends as Ironman Hawaii world champions at Kona.

There are no signs the Island’s rage for triathlon has abated, as more than 1,000 competitors will race in the 18th Saunders Subaru Half Iron today at Elk/Beaver Lake and on the roads of the Saanich Peninsula.

“This is such a great triathlon community. . . . It’s the community that got me to where I am, and I take every opportunity to participate in this race,” said Brent McMahon of Victoria, the Athens 2004 and London 2012 Olympian, who will take part in the relay event today to prepare for next weekend’s Mont Tremblant 70.3.

Racing today includes the relay, Olympic distance and Half Iron events.

Other elites racing include Karen Thibodeau of Canmore, Alta., second-place finisher in the 2012 Ironman Canada; Ironman 70.3-champion Magali Tisseyre; 2013 Ironman Brazil runner-up Sara Gross; Commonwealth Games veteran Gillian Moody of Vancouver; ITU World Cup racer Andrew Russell of Sidney; and other notable pros Janet Nielsen, Damian Hill, Wade Carlson, Elliot Holtham and Carlos Lesser.

The 32-year-old McMahon, Pan Am Games gold- and silver-medallist, is mulling the career Olympic hat-trick at Rio 2016.

“I’ll take my time and make that decision next year,” he said.

For the others less elite in the mass of humanity that will hit the waters of Elk Lake this morning at 7, it’s the sport-for-life aspect that matters.

But that’s true even at the higher levels.

Wade Carlson was a self-described non-athlete when he began running at age 19 “to get in shape.”

Then he saw Ironman Hawaii from Kona on TV and thought to himself: “Why not?”

When he first tried to sign up for the Elk Lake Half Iron at age 21, he was told the event was already sold out for that year. Yet this is a dream that will not be denied. Today, the 28-year-old Mount Douglas Secondary graduate is one of the favourites to win. And he got to Kona, too, racing the fabled course in 2011.

“This is a big race for me [today]. My dream has been to win the Half Iron in Victoria,” said Carlson, who won the Olympic distance race in last month’s Shawnigan Lake Half Iron.

Such a lofty goal sprung from a humble start.

“In my first race, in Osoyoos, I was terrible. I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was 12,” Carlson said, chuckling.

“But then it just took off. I kept getting faster. It’s been a lot of hard work — I’ve put everything into it for nearly 10 years.”

It’s that type of steely determination that will be repeated 1,000 times over today in the triathlon capital of Canada.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com