The Heritage Invitational Triathlon may be a first-ever event, but several of its positive aspects are being mentioned in the same breath with the well-recognized Ironman Triathlon.

Granted, the Heritage is in its inaugural year as part of Provo's Freedom Festival celebration. And granted, the Ironman is the world championship triathlon held annually in Kona, Hawaii.But consider Heritage's prize money - a purse of $81,800. The overall men's and women's winners will receive $7,000 each, with the top 10 finishers in each men's and women's age divisions also awarded cash prizes.

According to Heritage Triathlon co-director Suzanne Borcherds, the top individual cash awards are not only more than double the average for most triathlons, but they start to approach Ironman standards.

No wonder that world-class triathletes such as Scott Tinley, Kirsten Hansen, Aaron Baker, Scott Molina and others have committed to partipate - and vie for the relatively big bucks.

And the Heritage will also double as the state triathlon championship and Ironman qualification meet. In addition to the two top overall winners in the male and female divisions, the three top finshers in both the men's and women's 40-and-older divisions also will automatically qualify for the Oct. 21 world championships.

However, Heritage is experiencing some first-year growing pains. "Do you have 10 hours?" mused Borcherds, as if ready to cite a long list of quirks and qualms.

However, she quickly added that first-time preparations and sponsor searches have been the most time-consuming details, with the current organization efforts laying the ground for the Heritage events in future years.

Plans for the July 4th event have been underway only since February, with the first-ever Heritage Triathlon the brainchild of Borcherd and her husband, Victor, who is a South African entrepreneur and majority owner of Heritage Mountain Resort.

His interest was the result in competing in the 1987 Ironman. And because he's qualified to return to Hawaii again this year, he'll sit out the Heritage and help as co-director.

While pre-registration has accounted for some 200 competitors, Heritage Triathlon officials are expecting a total contingent of 800. They cite their peers - organizers of other traithlons across the country - who say as much as 80 percent of applicants register in the week or two prior to the meet.

The event begins with a 1.2 mile swim at Utah Lake, with the state park's east boat ramp the starting point. Competitors swim out six-tenths of a mile and then double back towards the park's west boat ramp.

Participants then continue with a the 32-mile cycling segment, with the course first stretching to State Street in American Fork. Cyclists follow State Steet to north Orem, weaving their way along 16th North, Eighth East and Eighth North to the mouth of Provo Canyon.

From there, the course follows Foothill Drive along Provo's northeast bench, dipping down on Timp Drive before looping up to the Provo LDS Temple and ending at the south parking lot of Cougar Stadium.

Then it's off on foot for the climax - a 7.4-mile run back toward the city's tree streets and east bench. The runners join the Freedom Festival parade route down Center Street and University Avenue and finish at the BYU track stadium.

Meanwhile, Borcherds says the first-year event is getting national exposure, thanks to Triathlon Today magazine. The publication has called the Heritage Triathlon one of the summer's best events, citing the large purse and the atmosphere provided by the accompanying Freedom Festival.

In conjunction with the triathlon, the Pioneer Triathlon Team, a 14-member squad sponsored by Pioneer Electronics, will visit Provo. The traveling team visits terminally and seriously ill children in local hospitals before a triathlon and then plays host to the young patients at the event.