What: Ironman Kansas 70.3 triathlon When: June 14 Where: Clinton State Park Estimated participants: 2,000 athletes Course: swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, run 13.1 miles
This year’s Ironman Kansas 70.3 triathlon doesn’t really have a clear-cut favorite.
After all, 2,000 athletes from all 50 states and 13 different countries will compete in the June 14 race at Clinton State Park. Take your pick.
But Tim O’Donnell, fresh off setting the St. Croix Ironman course record on May 3 in the Virgin Islands, figures to have as good a chance as anyone.
O’Donnell, who trains as a professional triathlete in Boulder, Colo., certainly has the resume. He was captain of his varsity swim team in high school before joining the United States Naval Academy, where he graduated in 2005. He’s won six consecutive Armed Forces triathlon Championships (2003-2008).
In May’s St. Croix race, his first victory as a professional, O’Donnell unintentionally developed a nickname that might stay with him by the time he’s set to race in Lawrence: the pirate.
The nickname was derived from an interchangeable lens that popped out of his glasses in the biking portion of the triathlon. He finished the running portion of the race with only one lens as well.
“I went through that whole race and had no clue that a lens was missing,” O’Donnell said. “I put the glasses on top of my head before I crossed the finish line for media shots. When I went on the computer to click on my pictures, I finally noticed I only had one lens. Then, I started seeing people online calling me the pirate.”
So does he hope the nickname sticks?
“It depends if Captain Morgan wants to sponsor me or not,” O’Donnell said, laughing. “If that’s the case, I’ll definitely let it stick.”
Despite racing with one lens, O’Donnell broke the St. Croix course record previously held by Craig Alexander, the reigning Ironman World Champion. Alexander, who placed second at last year’s Ironman Kansas 70.3, was in his native Australia, where his wife was expecting to give birth the same weekend of the St. Croix race.
“I haven’t been on his level of racing before, so that’s why I was really shocked at breaking his record,” O’Donnell said of his time of 4:02.36. “I joked around that (Alexander) was going to look for his record back next year at the same spot. I’ll put it on the schedule early (returning to defend victory).”
Training as a professional triathlete is a full-time job. Ironman 70.3 triathlons, such as the June race in Lawrence, begin with 1.2 miles of swimming, followed by 56 miles of bike riding and 13.1 miles of running. Not exactly your everyday workout.
O’Donnell said in a standard week, he swims 30,000 meters, bikes for 12 hours and runs 85 miles.
O’Donnell’s training has paid off in the four triathlons in which he has participated in 2009. He placed third at New Orleans (April 5), 11th at St. Petersburg, Fla. (April 26), first at St. Croix (May 3) and third at Oklahoma City (May 16).
“I’m at the point now where I want to go in and win every race I compete in,” O’Donnell, 28, said. “I don’t think it’s unrealistic. I don’t think it will happen every time, but I’m at the point where I’d be in the mix for that.”
June will mark the first time O’Donnell has visited Lawrence. He never has raced in the Sunflower State.
“We’re excited on a couple different levels that Tim’s racing here,” said race director Ryan Robinson, a Lawrence resident who has put on the race for the two years of its existence in Kansas. “Tim’s an incredible athlete. We haven’t seen many athletes of that caliber before.”
Last year’s winner, Terenzo Bozzone of New Zealand, won’t compete in this year’s race, nor will last year’s runner-up, Alexander.
That could open the door for O’Donnell, along with athletes like Australia’s Simon Thompson, who won the Ironman Singapore 70.3 in September 2008, and Australia’s Luke Bell, a multiple-time winner on the 70.3 circuit.
“I heard it’s tougher than you’d expect, with a little more rolling on the bike,” O’Donnell said of the Clinton State Park course. “From what I heard, it might be pretty hot, too, which is probably the No. 1 concern — keeping tabs on the heat.”
Robinson said this year’s race would field 2,000 competitors, as compared to the 1,300 participants Lawrence saw last year.
Ironman Kansas 70.3 is one of 40 Ironman races worldwide and one of 16 in North America.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there, knowing a little more about the area, so that I can tell everyone next year, ‘Hey, you have to go to Kansas,’” O’Donnell said.