If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” said Pete Jacobs, who won the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines for the third straight year.
The Australian yesterday bested a field of 1,340 individual triathletes from all over the world and said the event in Cebu, with its outpouring of roadside cheers and challenging heat, was his most memorable one.
“I have been all around the world, but this is the best race, the best supporters, the most fun,” he said, after receiving a trophy with other champions at the finish line in the Shangri-la’s Mactan Resort and Spa.
The death of a Cebuano participant, 44-year-old Ramon Igaño, who fell off his bike in Talisay City, was the only tragedy in the day-long competition, which started with a morning swim in Mactan, a bike race through Metro Cebu and a 21-kilometer run in Punta Engano, Lapu-Lapu City.
Igaño, a Cebu Pacific airline load controller, hit his head on a concrete gutter at the South Coastal Road, and later passed away at the Chong Hua Hospital.
His wife, Humility, a doctor, was his relay team partner waiting for him at the Shangri-la resort to start her run.
At the award rites on a grassy field in the resort at 2:30 p.m., athletes and supporters cheered the top finishers.
Trophies were handed out by Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz and Wilfred Uytengsu Jr., president of Sunrise Events Inc., who had chosen his hometown of Cebu as the host of the Ironman 70.3 after mounting it three straight years in Camarines Sur.
“Ironman has definitely placed Cebu in the world map of sports. Congratulations and see you all in future sports events here in Cebu,” said Governor Garcia.
There was no mention of the fatal cycling accident to dampen the festive ceremony. Organizers said they still had to confirm details of the accident.
The day-long endurance event offered images of human triumph such as the dramatic finish of one-legged swimmer Arnel Aba in the 1.9 km swim course that was met with thunderous applause from spectators.
Aba is part of Wetshop Para Tri Team, a group of differently-abled competitors. Teammate Godrey Taberna completed the 90 km bike race with a clubbed foot and Isidro Vildosola, with an amputated arm, finished the 21 km run.
Spectators lined the entire race course through four cities of Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue, Cebu and Talisay.
Students from the Mactan National High School were on the street as early as 5 a.m to catch a glimpse of celebrities.
A seven-hour road closure that ended at noon disrupted travel plans of residents and motorists along the race course. The old Mandaue-Mactan bridge was completely closed while half of the 4-lane Marcelo Fernan Bridge was reserved for cyclists.
All the Ironman 70.3 awardees, in their remarks on stage, made special mention of the cheerers along the route.
City officials had planned to field 25,000 people, from organized groups of students to spontaneous clusters of spectators.
“Thank you so much for the well wishers there. It really meant a lot,” Jacobs said.
Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen who topped the professional women’s division was moved by the sight of so many children.
“I especially would like to thank, though they are not here, all the kids today at the race course. Wow! It was just awesome. All these cheerleaders. It was just incredible despite the heat. It was really impressive,” she said.
Fans and athletes’ friends and family inside the posh Shangri-la Mactan Resort paid an access fee of P1,000 per spectator to get a a close-up view of the participants.
Among the celebrity competitors were F-1 Champion Jenson Button, actors Piolo Pascual, Drew Arellano, Matteo Guidicelli, Kim Atienza, Anthony Pangilinan, Maricel Laxa and Sen. Pia Cayetano.
But even those who couldn’t enter the resort found the event thrilling to watch from the sidelines.
“It was all worth it,” said Nacing Talingting a 50-year resident of barangay Mactan in Lapu-Lapu City.
Talingting said she’s never seen a crowd so big.
“We’re proud to be hosting this grand event. There are so many visitors. Not even our town fiesta could beat this,” Talinting said in Cebuano. /Haide P. Acuna and Marian Codilla