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Iron time

Ironman Lake Placid, thousands of athletes ready for Sunday’s race

July 20, 2017
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - As a three-year competitor in the early 2000s and now the race director for the sixth straight season, Greg Borzilleri knows all the ins and outs of the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon, and he described North America's most popular Ironman race as an event that can almost run itself.

"This is year 19. Our teenage years are done after this," Borzilleri said Wednesday, July 19 while fielding phone calls as preparations were taking place at the Olympic Speedskating Oval, the site of the race's finish line as well as the Ironman Village. "It just rolls right along. It's such a well-oiled machine. It takes a lot of bodies to put this together. We have a lot of people, and you can do anything with a lot of people."

Sunday's 140.6-mile race features the return of the men's professional field for the first time since 2014, when Australia's Kyle Buckingham claimed that championship on a day when the swim leg was cut in half due to a wild lightning storm. And its a stacked group of pros led by American Andy Potts, who won here in 2012 and 2013.

Article Photos

Cyclists make their way up state Route 73 near the Adirondack Loj Road during the 2016 Ironman Lake Placid triathlon.
(News photo — Lou Reuter)

"We're pretty excited about the men's pro field. It's deep, and obviously, Andy Potts is the star," Borzilleri said. "I think we have 29, and that is a big number for the pros. They won't all show up but that's a big field."

Potts is the only men's multiple-time champion in Lake Placid, and he will be wearing bib No. 1 in the race. The former All-American collegiate swimmer, as well as the Ironman 70.3 world champion from 2007, won in 2012 in his first appearance in Lake Placid, and Pete Jacobs finished runner-up. Later that year, Jacobs, an Australian, went on to win the world championship title, something that Borzilleri expressed pride in.

"To have that caliber of athlete come to Lake Placid, that's something special," Borzilleri said. "Those two were battling it out right here in Lake Placid. I'd like to think that Lake Placid is a good luck stepping stone for world champions.

Although Potts will be gunning for an unprecedented third crown here, he's just one in Sunday's elite field of contenders, which also features another past Lake Placid winner, TJ Tollakson, an American who placed first in 2011 and will don bib No. 2. When it comes to the pros, as well as some fast male and female age-groupers, a good day on Sunday could secure them spots in this year's Ironman World Championships, which take place in Hawaii in October.

"They chose this race based primarily on their schedule," Borzilleri said. "The pros have a points system. Based on that, many of them have already qualified for Kona, but we haven't had that many races yet this year. We've only had a few full distance Ironmans so this is a big one."

Another fact that Borzilleri enjoys as race director is that filling up the field in Lake Placid has traditionally been easy.

"We're lucky because there are other Ironman races that are having more difficulty filling up than we are," he said. "We hope that we are the crown jewel of the North American Ironman circuit, and we realize that people understand that. People like to be here and we love having them here. We register north of 3,000 and have 2,500 - 2,600 who actually show up. That's been standard for years."

Borzilleri explained that two factors, and probably the two biggest reasons, leading to the popularity of Ironman Lake Placid is the race location and the support of the community. He said in recent years, triathletes have been given surveys, and they've responded that the 112-mile bike course is the most scenic in North America. He added the 2.4-mile swim is held in "beautiful Mirror Lake" and the 26.2-mile run course is iconic in part because it goes past some of the venues where the events were held during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.

"If we're not the smallest, we're one of the smallest communities that host a full Ironman, and the town basically turns over," Borzilleri said. "It turns over from horse show to Ironman. Basically if you're not involved with Ironman, you're probably not in town that weekend.

"People keep coming back here because of the spirit of the community, the design of the course and the support of the volunteers and locals. There's always some grumbling, but for the most part, people are happy to see our Ironman friends come back every year."

Another activity that goes hand in hand with Sunday's Ironman is Friday's Ironkids race, which begins at 2 p.m. next to Mirror Lake. The event is the largest of its kind in North American and featured a field of 700 youngsters a year ago.

There are a few changes going along with the race this year, the biggest being the elimination of an out-and-back section of the bike course that ran along Haselton Road in Wilmington. Instead, there will be an out-and-back ride on the Bobsled Run Road in Lake Placid, which was recently repaved.

Two years ago, the Ironman still took place despite a devastating fire the night before the race that caused chaos on Main Street. And the year before that, an early morning thunderstorm created a sticky situation during the swim leg of the race as many of the triathletes left the lake and sought shelter before continuing their day. But after those incidents and 18 years in the books, Borzilleri said Lake Placid has this event pretty much down to a science.

"We have the best crew that comes in, we have the best volunteer director in North America in Sue Cameron and we have the best venue," Borzilleri said. "It's pretty easy. I can just put my feet up and relax. The only unknown is the weather. We're ready for it. After our fun thunderstorm three years ago and our fire on Main Street two years ago, we can pretty much handle anything."



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