Tragedy strikes race: Athlete dies during race as others gather to honor memory of friend
Heather Jackson found redemption at Ross's Landing on Sunday morning.
The 32-year-old professional triathlete shook off a horrendous performance two weeks ago to claim a dominating win in the women's pro race at the 2016 edition of Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 with a time of four hours, 11 minutes and 56 seconds.
Jackson had struggled with breathing problems and other health issues May 7 at the Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship in St. George, Utah, and was forced to drop out of the race. It was a humbling moment for an athlete who had finished second in the 70.3 world championships in 2013 and third at the same event in 2012.
"Two weeks ago was supposed to be my day at the U.S. championships," she said after winning in Chattanooga. "I just had a really rough day and went backwards all day. I was super disappointed after all winter aiming for that race."
Jackson rallied from ninth place at the end of the 1.2-mile swim to take charge during the the 56-mile bike leg. The New Hampshire native began the 13.1-mile run course with a lead of more than five minutes and extended that edge for a comfortable win of more than six minutes in front of a lively crowd of spectators lining Riverfront Parkway.
"I heard I was 50 seconds down from the lead (after the swim)," she said. "For me, 50 seconds down is awesome. It's usually like four minutes, so I was like 'OK, nice. I'm in striking distance.'
"I knew there were some fast runners here, so I knew I had to ride like I'm not gonna run. That was my move. Some days it pays off, some days it doesn't."
Magali Tisseyre, from Canada, had little hope of catching Jackson, but she had to finish strong with run specialist Miranda Carfrae charging hard in third.polls here 3597
"It's Miranda running behind me," Tisseyre said of the Australian. "I know I can't rest at any point during the race. Every time we had a turnaround, I would look at her and see that she was catching me. That helped me up my effort."
Tisseyre finished with a time of 4:18:33, just one minute ahead of Carfrae at 4:19:32
Sunday's win was a big lift for Jackson, who had been struggling with doubts after her rough day in Utah.
"I was scared for the past two weeks that I was going to have a bad day again," she said. "I wasn't training well and nothing was going right.
"To be able to put it together today was a huge confidence boost and helps me push forward for the rest of the season."
In the men's race, German Sebastian Kienle and Australian Sam Appleton dueled throughout the bike course, but Kienle — a two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion and 2014 Ironman champion at the 140.6-mile distance — showed his form during the run to win by more than two minutes with a time of 3:46:48.
"I'm really happy with my swim, and I think that's the foundation for my win," Kienle said. "I'm usually down like two or three minutes.
"I know (Appleton) is very strong when he races from the lead, so I was hoping to break him when I caught him. But he refused to accept second place, so I had to do it on the run."
Appleton finished with a time of 3:48:46 and was followed by Russian triathlete Ivan Tutukin at 3:53:05.
"Sebastian is a class athlete," Appleton said. "He's an absolute beast on the bike, and I knew when he came past that I'd have to stay with him or the race would get away from me.
"I paid for it a little bit on the run, but we put in some time on the chasers so I could relax a little bit. I was cramping up a bit, but I got through it in the end."
Sunday's competition received a big boost in pro triathletes as they begin scouting the course that will be the site of the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Most of the top pros came away impressed with the course — despite rumors of a bike course change that could add a climb up Lookout Mountain next summer — and with how enthusiastic Chattanoogans seem to be about hosting the race.
"Honestly, this is one of the favorite races that I've done," Appleton said. "Just the atmosphere and the course is awesome. I'm really excited for next year."
However, the local edge for worlds next year might go to fourth-place finisher Justin Park. The Carrollton, Ga., resident is very familiar with Chattanooga, and he has his sights set on a strong performance next year less than two hours from home.
"My wife came up with me this morning, and this is one of our favorite cities," he said after finishing with a time of 3:57:34. "We've been here probably half a dozen times not racing, so we love it.
"To have worlds here is great. Ever since they announced it, that's been my goal."
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@bellsouth.net. Follow him on Twitter @JFTanner.