Smiles of joy. Grimaces of pain. Arms raised in triumph. Hands grasping knees as runners doubled over gasping for breath.
It was all part of the finish-line scene Sunday at the Cayman Islands Triathlon, as 170 athletes swam, cycled and ran their way through a grueling course that began and finished at Seven Mile Public Beach.
But the biggest reaction may have been confusion.
Problems with recorded times had some athletes dashing back out onto the running course to ensure they’d passed the required spots where electronic sensors recorded their progress, while others found themselves displaced by incomplete times.
All three of the top women’s finishers in the sprint distance were disqualified after the event was finished.
Derek Lerner is with Race Caribbean, the official timekeeper for the event. He said such problems can occur when athletes are unclear about the exact points they have to hit in a race, but he could not recall an event where all three top finishers were displaced.
Other athletes had trouble as well.
Kent Burgess, 31, who won the sprint division of the race – a 750 meter swim, a 20K bike ride and a 5K run – took advantage of a problem with front-runner Marius Acker’s time recording, only to nearly lose first place on a technicality of his own.
Acker, who won the sprint division last year and was the favorite to win the sprint, had actually hit the finish line minutes before Burgess. But Acker was told he had miscounted his running laps and had to return to the course for another mile.
After steaming across the finish line and expressing surprise at his win, Burgess was told he had cut short the last turn in the race. He ran back onto the course so that the electronic sensor would record his passage. The mistake resulted in a dramatic finish as the second-place contender reached the sensor just after Burgess and the two sprinted back to the finish line with Burgess maintaining his slight lead.
“That was good fun,” Burgess said after finishing in 1:17.09.
Burgess, who was competing in a triathlon for the first time, placed third in last year’s Cayman Islands Marathon. He said he only started to his swim training in March of this year.
Annalet Kruger, 29, was also competing in her first Cayman Islands Triathlon, although she did the Mercuryman event earlier this year. She was first to cross the finish line in the sprint women’s division, having initially planned to do the longer Olympic distance of a 1,500 meter swim, 40K bike ride and 10K run.
But Kruger and the two other top-three finishers said they were misdirected on the cycling course by a volunteer. They failed to pass a key electronic sensor and were judged not to have completed the course.
Trevor Murphy, president of the Cayman Islands Triathlon Association, said it is up to the athletes to make sure they follow the race course, even if a volunteer provides incorrect information. He said there were posted signs showing the right way for riders to go. Only one other athlete had a similar problem, he said, adding that despite the resulting shortcut, the three women in question would probably have still been the top-three finishers.
“It’s unfortunate,” Murphy said. “We’ve never had this before.”
Maggie Tomlin was eventually named the winner of the women’s sprint triathlon with a time of 1 hour, 29 minutes and 17 seconds. In the women’s Olympic distance, Nadine Gray hit the finish at 2:32.56 for first place.
More than 15 minutes earlier, Patrick Harfield took the men’s division for the second year in a row in 2:14.27 and was met with whistles and cheers from supporters. Harfield, who moved to Cayman last year, said his time was slower this year.
“The distance on the bike was a little longer,” he said, comparing this race to last year’s. A headwind also slowed the riders down, he said.
“It was hotter than last year on the run,” he said. “The run was tough.”
Harfield said he was just coming off his first Ironman competition in Maryland.
He likes the quality of the events in Cayman.
“You have a lot of expats that are competitive,” he said. “The competition is usually pretty good.”
It’s clearly a motivator for Harfield. Others may find motivation in other things.
Jess Peacey, 37, said this was only her second triathlon. Her reason for entering, she said, was very basic.
“I don’t want to get fat,” Peacey said. “Now, I can go to brunch and eat guilt free.