ST. GEORGE — Canadian Brent McMahon and Californian Meredith Kessler, basking in an ideal day of sunshine in Utah's Dixie, won the men's and women's St. George Ironman 70.3 Saturday.
The two triathletes bubbled with enthusiasm while meeting with the media after the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run.
"What an awesome place," said McMahon, who hails from Victoria, B.C., Canada. "I love it here."
A year ago, gale-like winds during the swim and sweltering temperatures during the run made the St. George Ironman a race of attrition, rather than speed. But Mother Nature was more cooperative this year.
"It was perfect," Kessler said. "The weather was beautiful and the swim this year was pretty easy after last year's troubles."
Kessler doesn't live in Utah, but the triathlete may just want to talk to a realtor while she's in St. George. For the second straight year, she won the women's side of the St. George Ironman, tabbed by many to be the toughest Ironman course in the world.
It should be noted that the St. George Ironman was reduced from a full Ironman to what is termed a 70.3.
Each leg of the race is exactly half the distance of a full Ironman.
Nevertheless, Kessler said the race in southern Utah still remains incredibly difficult.
"This is the most difficult course," she said. "It's a test of will just to get up some of those hills."
Kessler actually trailed Svenja Bazlen of Germany by four and a half minutes at the start of the 13-mile run, but quickly made up ground. By the four-hour mark, Kessler had taken the lead for good. She finished with a time of 4:17:11.
Bazlen took second in the women's professional group, 1:35 behind Kessler. Southern Heather Wurtele, who is originally from Canada but lives and trains in southern Utah, took third.
McMahon, the men's winner, finished with a time of 3:51:10. He crossed the finish line, sunglasses perched on his head and Canadian flag in hand, exhaling a guttural, "Yeah!"
"I've been here for almost two weeks, learning the course, treating it like world champs. I wanted to win bad. I was ready for this."
Kevin Collington (Orlando, Fla.) and Andy Potts (Colorado Springs, Colo.) placed second and third, respectively. The top men's professional from Utah was Kirk Nelson, who lives in Ivins.
"This is such a beautiful race and a beautiful place," Nelson said. "The weather was perfect, but the course is very challenging. We got our money's worth today."
Several Utahns also did well amongst the amateurs, with Spencer Woolston of Highland winning the men's 35-39 age group in 4:28:37. Rob Lea of Park City took second in the men's 30-34 age group with a time of 4:26:04, a few minutes behind age-group winner Benjamin Williams of Hawaii.
Salt Lake City's Spencer Peterson finished fourth in the men's 25-29 age group. He crossed the finish line with a time of 4:31:08, nine minutes behind age-group champion Keith Butsko of California.
For the women's amateurs, Emily Ure of Park City was the top Utahn with a time of 4:51:40, good enough for third place in the women's 30-34 age group. There was a heavy presence of both police and military at the race given recent national events, especially the bombing at the Boston Marathon.
Bomb-sniffing dogs and on-scene presence of the 85th Civil Support Team of the Utah National Guard added to the high security at the event.
Andy Griffin is the sports editor of the southern Utah news website STGnews.com.