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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, October 17, 2004

Race's oasis has best view of the finish

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

KAILUA, Kona, Hawai'i — For as long as the Ironman Triathlon World Championship has been in Kona — 26 races in 25 years now — Terry Lewis has enjoyed his own version of a luxury box at the Ocean View Inn.

Marie Haughey, left, and Michele Herring of Los Angeles look for Haughey's husband, Rick, at the start of the Ironman bike race.

Tim Wright • Special to The Advertiser

Each year, the choice is his: the short row of seats along the screen-and-jalousie windows facing Kailua Pier, the age-flattened stools at the bar, or, if he's feeling particularly social, a table in the dining room that from 5 a.m. to midnight every Ironman Saturday resembles a United Nations cafeteria.

It's here at the Ocean View that Ironman spectators from every major island, all 50 states and four dozen nations spend the day downing heavy plates of pancakes, Portuguese sausage and eggs, hamburger steak or beef cutlet as they watch the race unfold outside. They steel themselves for the long day with pot after pot of coffee or, in Lewis' case, a steady stream of cold Budweisers.

Lewis was pacing between the bar and the small anteroom at the entrance of the restaurant when Normann Stadler of Mannheim, Germany, crossed the finish line yesterday afternoon. The 33-year-old Stadler, who finished fourth last year, turned in a dominant performance, completing the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and full 26.2-mile marathon in 8 hours, 33 minutes and 29 seconds.

Last year's winner, three-time champion Peter Reid of Canada, finished second in 8:43:40.

Rebecca Flemming, left, helps her friend, Patty Oberuc, write "Go Joe" near the finish line. The two New Jersey women were waiting for Joe Doncheski, Oberuc's son, who was competing in his first Ironman. Oberuc tracked the race on software downloaded onto her phone.

Tim Wright • Special to The Advertiser

Nina Kraft of Braunschweig, Germany, finished first among the women with a time of 9:33:25.

Kevin Fehr of Boston bolted from his table at the center of the room when he heard the telltale sound of a helicopter heralding Stadler's approach.

"I almost fell down the stairs," said Fehr, 28, "but it was worth it. It was unbelievable seeing him finish so strong. That guy went through something that would probably kill you and me, but he looked like he could run another marathon. Unbelievable."

Kahea Wong heard the copter, too, but didn't feel compelled to move from her seat near the window. "Good for him," she said of the winner. "I guess. Whatever."

Kawenehi Davis serves up the drinks and laughs at the Ocean View Inn next to the Ironman finish line.

Tim Wright • Special to The Advertiser

Wong was one of only a handful of Ocean View patrons who didn't seem interested in the race.

"It's not my thing," said Wong, 32, a Kona resident for 20 years. "But you've got to watch because, you know, what else can you do? Stay home? Once it starts, you're stuck. You can't go anywhere."

Lewis was more forgiving.

"It's only an inconvenience for a day, and it's an important source of revenue for the town," he said.

T-shirt vendor Julia Marks of Kailua, Kona, outfits a mannequin in front of her Ali'i Drive store with an Ironman Triathlon shirt.

Tim Wright • Special to The Advertiser

Lewis met his wife, Pohai, a waitress at the Ocean View, here at the restaurant some 30 years ago. Each year, they ride in together so Pohai can work the extra-early shift and Lewis, a landlord and musician, can get a good seat for the beginning of the race.

The 50-year-old Kona resident remembers the early years of the race when just a smattering of curious, bemused Kona residents would hang out to watch what was then the most unexplainably masochistic spectacle in sports.

"The race has changed a lot," Lewis said. "It's so much bigger now."

In the very first Ironman on O'ahu in 1978, 15 participants competed for nothing more than bragging rights. Yesterday's race featured more than 1,730 competitors from as far away as Brazil, Slovenia and South Africa, vying for a $480,000 purse ($100,000 to both the men's and women's winners).


2004 Ironman Triathlon World Championships

Start: 6:45 a.m. yesterday

Distances: 2.4-mile swim in Kailua Bay; 112-mile bike race from Kailua, Kona pier along Kuakini Highway and Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway to Hawi and back; and 26.2-mile run from the pier along Ali'i Drive to St. Peter's Church at Keauhou and back.

Total competitors: 1,797 (452 women)

Professional competitors: 85 men, 54 women

Countries represented: at least 48

States represented: 50

Oldest competitors: Harriet Anderson and Mickie Shapiro, both 68, both from California

Money spent by competitors, onlookers and media: $14.9 million and up

Volunteers: about 5,500

Course record: men, Luc Van Lierde 8:04:08 (1996); women, Paula Newby-Fraser 8:55:28 (1992).

Multiple winners: Men — Dave Scott (1980, 1982-84, 1986-87); Mark Allen (1989-93, 1995); Peter Reid (1998, 2000, 2003); Scott Tinley (1985); Luc Van Lierde (1996, 1999); Timothy DeBoom (2001-02). Women — Paula Newby-Fraser (1986, 1988-89, 1991-94, 1996); Natasha Badmann (1998, 2000-02); Sylviane Puntous (1982-83); Erin Baker (1987, 1990); Lori Bowden (1999, 2003).

Sources: Ironman; Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism study, 1999

Aside from a limited number of the lottery slots, most of the competitors had to qualify for Kona at one of 26 officially sanctioned races around the world.

"It's great having this many people," Lewis said. "I'm never going to go to Germany or Switzerland, but I get to talk to German and Swiss people every year because of the race."

Lewis spent much of the early morning yesterday hanging around outside playing his 'ukulele, talking to a couple of Brazilians about the finer points of Hawaiian music.

"They were cool," he said. "They were really interested in 'ukulele, because they have something similar in Brazil."

Ocean View owner and bartender Kawewehi Davis uses every employee she can wrangle for Ironman race days, when the restaurant opens early, skips the usual midafternoon shutdown, and closes whenever it feels right.

Yesterday there were six furiously working waitresses in the morning, and another six on the late shift.

Several patrons dropped by two or three times over the course of the day, including Charlie and Anne Marie Sykos of Kealakekua.

Charlie Sykos has seen at least a dozen Kona Ironman races over the years, including the legendary finish by Julie Moss, who provided the race's most enduring image when she literally crawled to the finish line in 1982.

Sykos showed up early yesterday, grabbing that prized seat near the screen-and-jalousie windows, a space framed by dusty red-and-green Christmas garlands, an unplugged neon Budweiser sign, and the mounted bill of a marlin caught in 1971. Elevated above the crowd of people on Ali'i Drive, Sykos had an almost unobstructed view of the full swim course.

Nearby, an oversized fan blew warm air toward the back of the bar, where Scott Smith of Lancaster, Calif., sat nursing a Longboard Lager.

Smith, 48, has completed four Ironman-distance triathlons but has never qualified for Kona. He was in town to cheer his buddy, Kevin Purcell, also from California. It was Purcell who talked Smith into doing his first triathlon, and Purcell, — like Smith, a 6-foot-plus, 200-pounder — who continues to give Smith hope that big, non-aerodynamic men can compete with the beanpoles of the sport.

"I'm a watery guy," Smith said, laughing. "The cutoff for the races is 17 hours, and I'm always on the bubble of not finishing. Going 142 miles in one day is really almost an impossible effort. I normally don't go that long without taking a nap. But I keep trying."

Outside, the excitement of the swim start quickly evaporated beneath the hot sun as the last of the athletes straddled their bikes and headed out for the 112-mile roundtrip to tiny Hawi. Closed to accommodate the bike-and-run legs, normally traffic-choked Ali'i Drive gave way to heel-dragging spectators and scurrying volunteers. Friends and family of various athletes scrawled messages on the road using colored chalk, sold in convenience stores along the path.

Patti Oberuc of Hackettstown, N.J., joined friends and family in scrawling an enormous "Go Joe!" for her son, Joseph Doncheski.

"He was a little behind on the swim, but he'll make it up on the bike," said Oberuc, who was able to track the race on software downloaded onto her phone.

Vernon and Penny Montiban made the two-hour drive from Hilo to Kona with son Kainoa and his girlfriend, Mari Tsuha, who was scheduled to work as a massage apprentice at the post-race tent. It was the Montibans' first up-close look at the annual spectacle, and they made sure they got as close as they could when Stadler roared down down Kuakini Highway on his bike.

"It was awesome, fascinating," Penny Montiban said.

"I think it's good for locals to accommodate people from other countries. They contribute to the economy, and it's a kama'aina thing to return the aloha."

Indeed, Ironman week is huge for local businesses.

"It's the biggest day of the year," said Ron Myklebust, co-owner of Unison, which sells official Ironman clothes and accessories year-round. "It's our Christmas."

Brothers Flint and Gale Carpenter of Big Island Jewelers, the official jeweler of the Ironman, have been making Ironman baubles for the past decade. In addition to donating the coveted gold first-place rings for the men's and women's winners, they sell 42 different designs of rings, pendants and earrings for $75 to $2,000. They expect to sell "hundreds" in the days before and after the race.

"What the Ironman does for the town is phenomenal," Gale Carpenter said. "It gives us financial stability for the month of October."

Linda Potter, owner of Pirates By the Sea Tattoo, had already done about 100 Ironman logo tattoos in the week leading up to yesterday's race. The serious business starts today when, as per tradition, any first-time finishers will make their way up her steep staircase for a honu-, hibiscus- or Big Island-embellished Ironman logo to mark their accomplishment.

The indelible image Uli Fischer will take home to Munich, Germany, will be the memory of a jubilant Stadler striding down Kuakini Highway, scooping a shave ice from a spectator, as he raced alone to victory.

Fischer said he teared up when Stadler broke down as he hugged his girlfriend at the finish line.

"It was a wonderful sight," said Fischer, 38. "And it was even more wonderful when (Kraft) ran in later as the first woman. It was a great day, not just for Germans, but for anyone who loves triathlons. I hope it was a great day for Kona."

Michael Tsai can be reached at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2461.

Correction: The Ocean View Inn in Kona is owned by RYL Corp. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information.