Kukio reached a milestone Saturday, as it celebrated 10years hosting the competitive 1.2-mile Kukio Blue Water Swim. To everyone’s delight, this open water swim event lived up its reputation, providing all 225 participants with a genuine first-class race experience.
From opening ceremonies with Hannah Springer’s Hawaiian blessing, to race announcing by legendary Hall of Fame coach, water sportsman and swimmer Steve Borowski, you could say it felt more like a family gathering than an all-out competition.
The beach fronting Kukio offers ideal snorkeling conditions, with its calm, clear waters teeming with marine life. Race conditions, on the other hand, were not nearly as perfect.
2008 winner Darren Phelan of Menlo Park, Calif., wasted no time navigating through what many were calling strong currents, as he propelled himself into the lead before the first-turn buoy.
Determined not to repeat last year’s runner-up finish, Phelan kept his momentum going and torpedoed himself back to shore to claim his second Kukio title in 24 minutes and 59 seconds.
“Conditions were a bit tougher this year,” Phelan said. “It looked calm, but there actually was a lot of water pushing, a lot of current.”
Phelan, a doctor in internal medicine, also recently crushed the national master’s swimming record in the 50-54 age group of the 400-meter individual medley, with a jaw dropping 4 minutes and 57 seconds.
What’s more? Phelan’s heroic effort made him the first 50-year-old to go under 5 minutes.
Second to sprint up the beach was 18-year-old Stephen Dewald Jr. of Mililani, Oahu, in 25:10. Third place went to Thomas Dessau with a solid time of 25:20. Professional triathlete Ian Mikelson in 25:46 rounded out the men’s fast top four.
In the female division, four women duked it out in the battle for first — finishing within 33 seconds of each other.
Big Island teen swimmers Leahi Camacho, Taylor Doherty, Madeline Foo and lone professional triathlete Michelle Vesterby of Denmark were tightly grouped by the halfway point, making for an exciting home stretch sprint.
Vesterby, who used the race as a final tuneup before tomorrow’s main event, had the most power left in her stroke, jetting to the finish line first with an outstanding time of 25:50. Next to charge up the beach was Camacho in a great time of 26:11, followed by Doherty in 26:19, and Foo in fourth place at 26:23.
Catherine Spina took top honors in the first-ever finned division race with a time of 29:29. Manny Moniz was next in 30:38, and third went to Mike Donahoe in 38:31.
The following day, Hale Halawai came to life as athletes from around the globe took on the 28th annual PATH 5K/10K and Keiki Dip-N-Dash. It is the second oldest running event on the Big Island, and one glance at the overall winner’s list for the last 28 years reveals the depth of some of the greatest racing on the Big Island.
Right at the top, legendary triathlete Greg Welch’s name appears in bold print designating him as the course record holder for the 10K in a blazing 31:18 — a time he registered in 1988. If that sizzling 5:02 pace per mile is any indicator of greatness to come, six years later, Welch famously went on to become the 1994 Ironman World Champion.
And who could forget the Puntous sisters? The identical twins, Sylviane and Patricia, actually share the female 10K course record of 35:36 from the inaugural year in 1986. Sylviane Puntous is a two-time Ironman World Champion — 1983 and ‘84 — with her sister Patricia, in the runner-up position both years.
Two other female Ironman World Champions to grace the winner’s list include Canadians Heather Fuhr, 1997, and Lori Bowden, 1999 and 2003.
Though the race course has changed a few times over the years — starting off at the old Keauhou Beach Hotel, then to the Kailua Pier next to King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, to Hale Halawai, one thing is for sure — it is still the premier running race on the Big Island with such a diverse international field.
In the men’s overall title in the 10K race, Brandon Dibianca claimed top honors with a winning time of 35:39, becoming the 28th person to add his name to the coveted winner’s list. Nils Goerke placed second with a great time of 36:02, followed by Jeff Fyfe in third at 36:41.
The race for top Big Island male came down to a close battle between the trio of Kona’s Luis De La Torre, Jason Braswell and Laupahoehoe’s Alan Ryan. The three remained within striking distance of one another throughout the race, but in the end, De La Torre found an extra gear to sprint through the finish line in 37:19, placing him 5th overall. Right on De La Torre’s heels was Ryan with a solid time of 37:22, followed closely by Braswell in 37:44.
In the women’s race, Christine Schleifer ripped the course in a stellar time of 36:50. Schleifer’s fast split gives her the second fastest female run time since the Puntous sister’s course record. Second to cross the finish line was Kona’s Bree Wee who powered her way through with a great time of 39:08. Isabelle Gillodts was close behind in 39:48 to round out the women’s top three.
The 5K race proved equally exciting with the top three men and women closely bunched together, making for an all-out sprint to the finish. Ben Lucas was first to cross the finish line in a speedy time of 17:06. Michael Krueger was a few strides back at 17:15, followed by Mike Leone in 17:38 to round out the men’s fast group.
Meghan Fyfe claimed victory in the women’s division with an outstanding time of 19:50. Amanda Carpo kept it close to finish in second at 20:04, with Lucia Erat two ticks back in 20:06.
Good luck to everyone racing in tomorrow’s Ironman World Championship. And if you feel the urge to get out and do something Sunday, don’t forget about Team Mango’s Morning After Triathlon at White Sands Beach Park on Alii Drive. Start time is 7 a.m. for the 1/2-mile swim, 15-mile bike and 4-mile run with registration beginning at 5:30 a.m.