ST. PETERSBURG Dressed in gold Speedos, shaggy mullet wigs and clutching cigarettes, St. Petersburg residents Tom Fitzgerald and Todd Fedorovich pranced about the crowd of athletes Sunday morning before the pre-dawn start of the 30th annual St. Anthony’s Triathlon.
“There is a rampant disease here called Triathlon Over-Intensity Disorder Syndrome,” Fedorovich said. “We’re trying to cure it. So many people training for triathlons get crazy with the biking and shaving and timing, and we’re trying to get people to relax and enjoy the beautiful day.”
Despite some obstacles, that optimism was in large supply at Sunday’s race at St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Park, the first event of the World Triathlon Corporation’s 5150 Triathlon Series that also allows racers to qualify for the 2013 USA Triathlon Olympic-Distance National Championships.
Heightened security, home-made “Run for Boston” shirts and a moment of silence reminded participants that the race took place just weeks after home-made bombs killed three people and injured more than 260 at the Boston Marathon on April 15. But that didn’t stop 3,500 people, including 90 professional athletes and 100 volunteers, from participating. It was among the largest crowds in the event’s 30-year history.
“We met with the St. Petersburg Police Department after the Boston incident and we did a lot to enhanced security,” said Ron Colaguori, vice president of operations for St. Anthony’s. “We’re also going to be reaching out to the Boston Athletics association to make some kind of a donation in an area of need. … We had a huge crowd and this year we have more pros then we’ve ever had before”
A chaplain from St. Anthony’s Hospital led racers in a prayer and moment of silence for Boston before the start of the race as a bagpiper played Amazing Grace. Competitors, ranging from Olympic medalists to first-time racers, braved a 15 mile-an-hour wind that cut the amateur athlete’s 1.5 kilometer swim to 750 yards. They then had to bike 40 kilometers and run 10 kilometers.
“It’s very emotional,” Fitzgerald said. “After the ceremony and the rough start to the race, for a split second I think we all thought about not doing the race, but we know we can’t do that. We have to live our lives like nothing happened and keep doing the things we enjoy.”
But for female winner Alicia Kaye, the tragedy was the springboard she needed to win the race on her seventh try. Kaye, a Clermont resident, lived in Boston for years and her mother-in-law passed the finish line of the Boston Marathon 90 seconds before the bombs went off. With “Boston Strong” written on her legs, Kaye finished the race in 1:57:10.
“Last week was incredibly emotional for us. We were in constant morning,” Kaye said. “The survivors and their will to survive was my inspiration for today, kept me running.”
The overall winner, Jan Frodeno from Germany, was coming off an injury and wasn’t feeling confident he would finish near the top. A gold medalist in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Frodeno completed the course in 1:47:05 and said he was rejuvenated by the resilient spirit of the racers.
“I downed a whole cheesecake this morning and I reckon that fueled me through,” Frodeno said. “I’m over the moon and this is such an iconic race, it’s really the spring opening for the world. Some of the biggest names in the sport have won this race and I’m thrilled to add my name to that list.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said event-goers at everything from high school sporting events to major concerts can expect to see heightened security in the months following the bombing. Sunday’s race was patrolled by extra plainclothes police officers, uniformed police and K-9 units, and all runners had to carry their gear in clear, plastic bags.
The race went off without incident, Foster said, but moving forward the city will continue to take precautions.
“Unfortunately, it’s just a sign of our times, and I think events could become more expensive to attend as we go forward because of the cost of security,” Foster said. “Anytime you have a lot of people together you need to be smart. Just when you think events like this are exempt from these terrible concerns something crazy happens.”