Story by Jim Gourley
The Ultraman triathlon celebrates its 30th birthday this weekend, and it bodes to be the culminating moment of an exciting year. A star-studded cast has assembled in Kona for the three-day, 320-mile event, representing the entire span of the event’s history. And if the events of Ultraman Canada are any indication, it’s going to be an enthralling contest.
Returning to this year’s race is the winner of the inaugural 1983 Ultraman, Kurt Madden. Hailing from Big Bear, California, he’s here to celebrate the anniversary. It’s also a big year for 8-time finisher, 6-time winner, and defending champion Alexandre Ribeiro of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A win this year would set the record for most Ultraman World Championships and place him on the roster of athletes with the most ever finishes—a result he’s hoping for as he bids farewell to a race that’s been so dear to his heart for ten years. Ribeiro declared today that this will be his last time competing in Ultraman. The single father of three who also runs a coaching business with nearly 200 clients says that he wants to spend more time with his kids. Miro Kregar of Slovenia, who has been one of Ribeiro’s closest pursuers and friends in years past is also considering retiring from the sport. He says a big component of that decision will be the absence of the man he’s been runner up to three times.
This year will also be a farewell for the women’s champion and current women’s course record holder Amber Monforte. After three straight wins in Kona and another in Canada before that, she’s planning on taking some time off from the event. Unlike Ribeiro, however, Monforte hasn’t ruled out a return in a few years. For now, the woman who also finished her second Western States 100-mile trail run this year intends to explore new ultra-distance horizons.
One more win would certainly allow these phenomenal athletes to go out on a high note, but there are plenty of challengers who intend to make it a difficult one to play. Having finished just 35 minutes behind Amber in her first appearance at Ultraman Hawaii in 2010, Hillary Biscay has returned this year to take another shot. More than anything else, Ironman’s most prolific female competitor says she’s here to even the score with the course. She experienced difficulties with her nutrition very early in the 2010 race, leading to an extremely difficult second half of the 52.4-mile run course through the lava fields from Hawi to Kona. She says if she can race up to her potential, she can leave here satisfied. Whether it’s good enough to come away with the win remains to be seen.
Though previous experience says that the Ribeiro/Kregar and Monforte/Biscay pairs will be the major contests, the new generation of contenders isn’t to be discounted. Christian Isakson is coming off a tremendous performance and 4th place finish at his Ultraman debut in this year’s Canadian event. Depending on how conditions play out, he could remain a factor as the race closes in on the finish line. Also coming off a stellar race in Canada is Stacey Shand, who finished second to this year’s winner Iona MacKenzie only two weeks after completing the Badwater Ultramarathon. She’s coming into Kona fully rested and ready to race.
At the end of the day, though, it’s all about the journey. The 36 participants in this year’s event did not get here simply by demonstrating the physical endurance necessary to qualify. This is an invitation only event, and invitations are only extended to those who have proven they understand and appreciate the principles of Aloha, Ohana, and Kokua—the ancient Hawaiian principles of love, family, and service. This is a group that puts more value on the collective experience than individual accomplishment. Two will win, many will finish, a few may fall. Everyone partakes in the journey. They all have a part in the story. That story will unfold beginning this Friday. Lava Magazine will bring you the exclusive updates at the end of each day.