Viktor Zyemtsev insists he’s not getting better with age, but his results suggest otherwise.
The 39-year-old from Ukraine on Sunday became the first three-time Ironman Coeur d’Alene professional men’s champion, covering 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running in 8 hours, 32 minutes and 29 seconds. That’s slightly faster than his winning time in 2007 and nine minutes slower than his 2005 time.
“No, no,” responded Zyemtsev, when asked if he’s improving as the years go by. “Training less, not (as many) intervals, more recovery (time), a lot of suffering when training … but the experience I get from 10 years racing in Ironman is important.”
In the women’s pro race, Meredith Kessler won for the first time in six tries in Coeur d’Alene, timing 9:21.44. Kessler, a 33-year-old who lives in San Francisco, has won three events this season.
Spokane’s Haley Cooper-Scott took second place, battling through a rugged swim and more struggles in the 26.2-mile run for her highest placing in Coeur d’Alene.
“This is kind of a hometown race for me and I couldn’t go anywhere without people screaming at me to just keep plugging away,” Cooper-Scott said. “This is my slowest time here in probably six years but it’s definitely one of the hardest I’ve worked.”
The men’s and women’s champions each earned $15,000. Second-place finishers took home $7,500 and third place was worth $5,000.
Zyemtsev was in fifth after the 2.4-mile swim and remained fifth through 50 miles of the 112-mile bike, though he was right on the wheels of Guy Crawford and fellow Ukrainian Anton Blokhin. Chris Lieto was in front, followed by Tim O’Donnell, but Lieto was sidelined at roughly mile 75 by a calf injury. He came in dealing with an Achilles’ issue.
O’Donnell, battling a bug he caught earlier this week, said “the wheels came off” on the second half of the bike. Zyemtsev was more than four minutes ahead of Crawford transitioning from the bike to the run.
Zyemtsev, who often comes from behind during the marathon, maintained a comfortable lead during the run, but O’Donnell kept it interesting. The 31-year-old from Boulder, Colo., closed within 5 minutes but eventually finished 9 minutes behind Zyemtsev.
“It was a really rough day. I got a bug last week and literally couldn’t get out of bed on Monday,” O’Donnell said. “I gave it an honest shot … My quads are smashed, my stomach doesn’t feel great, but deep down I’m satisfied with myself and the way I dug and kept racing.”
Kessler, competing in her 45th Ironman, led by 4 minutes after the swim, but was chased down by Canadian Heather Wurtele 30 miles into the bike. They rode together for 60 miles before Wurtele, who won in Coeur d’Alene in 2008, moved in front.
“She put the hammer down at 90 and it was all I could do to stay with her because I know in this sport you need to stay with (the leader) as long as you possibly can,” Kessler said.
Kessler trailed by roughly 100 yards when Wurtele’s bike developed mechanical problems. She apparently used another competitor’s bike to finish, violating a USA Triathlon rule that requires competitors to finish using their own bike.
With Wurtele disqualified, Kessler cruised to victory by nearly 40 minutes.
Kessler and many of the pros said the new bike course was much tougher than previous years.
“Much harder, in a good way,” she said. “The climbs are steeper, longer, they’re kind of relentless.”
Cooper-Scott swam into trouble in the first 10 minutes.
“I had a virus the last three weeks and I thought I’d see how it went,” she said. “I almost dropped out of the swim in the first 10 minutes (because) I couldn’t catch my breath.”
Cooper-Scott back-stroked for a bit and swam away from the crowd to steady herself. Still, she was way behind, in time and placing, exiting Lake Coeur d’Alene. She found her rhythm on the second bike loop and the first half of the marathon, but then she “imploded.”
Whitney Garcia closed fast, but Cooper-Scott beat her by 21 seconds.
“I was very aware (of Garcia). I’d look down at my watch and go, ‘There is no way I’m running this slow’, but I was,” said Cooper-Scott, turning to her left where Garcia was seated. “You had a great second half of the marathon.”