Panjim: India's first-ever Ironman 70.3 triathlon ended on an extremely successful note for the country, with a trio of Indians finishing first, second and third on the sandy shores of Goa's Miramar beach on Sunday.
The first person to finish the race, with a time of 04:42:44, was Bishworjit Saikhom, a 27-year-old athlete from Manipur who has been competing in triathlons for the past nine years. He was closely followed by Nihal Baig, a former IIT-Bombay student and part-time athlete, as well as Mahesh Lourembam, a school-teacher from Manipur. While the men's winners were a little unexpected, the first woman to cross the finish line was hardly a surprise, with six-time Ironman World Championships winner Natascha Badmann blowing her competition out of the water. The relay race, in which each section is completed by a different athlete, was won by team 'The Juggernauts,' which comprised father-sun duo Yashish and Adit Dahiya, as well as their coach Pankkaj Dhiman.
Swiss athlete Pablo Erat was widely considered to be the favourite in the men's race, but he only managed a fourth-place finish, behind three Indians. Saikhom, on the other hand, was a relative unknown heading into the race, but impressed the throng of supporters present along the track with his tenacity as he fought his way back from behind to clinch top spot with a blistering run.
"This is my first Ironman and my aim was to win the gold medal in the overall race category. If I finished first overall, I would automatically win the gold in my age group as well," said Saikhom after the race, adding, "swimming for me was okay but in the first round of cycling, my legs cramped up because I had to cycle uphill. I thought I would let others pass me by in cycling and I will cover up in running. I just had to win. I wanted to win."
The victory held added meaning for Saikhom, who recently lost his father. "I felt really good when I crossed the finish line. My family was overjoyed when I won the triathlon. I lost my father last year and he always told me to try and win whenever I take part in any sport. I am sure he was watching from above and must be very proud of me," said Saikhom, as he dedicated the win to his family.
In the women's overall race, Swiss veteran Badmann finished almost an hour ahead of second-placed Sri Lankan Puvini Kahandawala, recording a time 05:18:49. Badmann, who has competed in triathlons across the globe, rated the course as one of the toughest she's faced, singling out the choppy waters of post-monsoon Goa as the most arduous section of the race. "It feels great to have finished the race and come first. But honestly, if I have to tell you about the swim course, it is definitely among the top five strongest courses I’ve had in my career. I’ve been racing for thirty years now, but this one was so hard. There was such a strong current. On the way out, I was constantly being rammed into the buoys. I was constantly hitting the boundaries of the course."
Although she stressed on the fact that her timing was not important, the 52-year-old Badmann reckoned she could have been much quicker, if not for a mechanical issue that forced her to take a pit stop. "In the first lap I was kind of on my own, but then I started to catch up to people and it became a little crowded later. The biking section was great, but in the second lap my chain rings got a bit loose, so I had to stop at the bike mechanics. It was a bit weird, because first I passed some people, then they passed me and then I passed them again! They were a bit confused, but we had a good conversation about it," said Badmann.
In spite of her difficulties during the swim, Badmann, who was one of the ambassadors for the event organised by Bangalore-based fit-tech company Yoska, remarked on how well the race was organised. "After coming out of the water, everything was just so great. I’ve been here for a week, and the track was so different. Everything was so clean, the potholes were all filled up and the atmosphere was so great," said Badmann, before jokingly adding, "in the first lap of the race, I saw just three dogs. When I was racing here four days ago, in just a small section near the highway I counted 81 dogs, so I'm glad they didn't have many around today!"
The second Indian to cross the finishing line on the day was fitness coach Pankkaj Dhiman, who was one-third of a relay team named 'the Juggernauts', which also featured his client — Policy Bazaar CEO Yashish Dahiya — and his 18-year-old son Adit. Adit led the lines for the team, completing his swim in a respectable time of 34:19 despite having a 'phobia' of swimming in the ocean.
"Halfway through the second lap, I could see things in the water, but I knew they weren’t really there. My dad, my coach had trained really hard for this, so I couldn’t let my phobia force me into pulling out. I couldn’t ruin it for them," said the teenager.
Adit, who was competing in his very first Ironman, set up the Juggernauts quite nicely, before Yashish (02:34:57) on the cycle, and Dhiman's (01:28:26) run helped them finish first in the relay, an aim that they had spent months training for. "We were aiming for gold, we wanted nothing else. When you start with that thought process, you train accordingly. You train to win, you plan to win, and then you have to execute it like we did," said Dhiman after the race.
Updated Date: Oct 21, 2019 23:17:57 IST