LAPU-LAPU CITY, Cebu — On a gloomy Sunday morning, victory shone bright on seasoned Filipino triathlete August Benedicto.
Ranged against a slew of heavy challengers from 46 nations, the Filipino race warrior came, saw and conquered the historic Mactan island — shaded by dark clouds but filled with ever-beaming Cebuano crowd — in a glorious swim, bike and run to the championship of the Megaworld IRONMAN 70.3 Philippines presented by AIA Vitality at the Mactan Newtown.
The 38-year-old Tarlac native but now based in Germany covered the dreaded 1.9-km swim, 90-km bike and 21-km run course in four hours, 29 minutes and 16 seconds to mark his triumphant homecoming and race comeback after three years due to the pandemic.
Mr. Benedicto’s conquest (35:17 in swim, 2:57:21 in bike and 1:29:43 in run) also marked the IRONMAN’s return in one of its staple race venues for the first time since 2019, fittingly crowning August in the first Sunday of the month he was named after.
Coming in by his side was Negros Occidental pride Ines Santiago, who was hailed as IRONMAN queen by clocking 5:23:14 in the endurance race that featured over 2,000 participants.
“This is my first race since 2019 so I’m happy with this win. More than that, I’m glad for the return of IRONMAN here in Cebu. They love triathlon here,” said Mr. Benedicto, who also won the Asian Elite category in that last Cebu IRONMAN.
With only three months of preparation from a usual year-long buildup, Mr. Benedicto found his return a hard nut to crack as he was left behind by 15 athletes in the swim competition that he admitted as among his Achilles’ heels.
But his pet event on the road was a different story as the former pro cyclist dazzled in the 90-km bike course along the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX) — the newest and biggest bridge in the country — and cut through the bulk of the lead group to only trail two rivals entering the ultimate run tiff.
There, the 2007 SEA Games duathlon bronze medalist almost ran out of steam before banking on his veteran pedigree for a last gasp in overtaking Australian Mark Jansen in the last loop around seven kilometers from the Mactan beach finish line.
More than that, him mustering will and strength in the final hurrah was from the cheers of jubilant Cebuanos along the way — somehow transferring their spirit to the athletes after clawing back in a challenge of their own from the devastation of super Typhoon “Odette” last year.
“I always get the energy from the crowd. Veteran’s move na rin,” added Mr. Benedicto, who traveled along without his family from Europe, where he left his bike.
With the help of Sunrise Events, Inc., organizer of IRONMAN in the Philippines, Mr. Benedicto found a bike to borrow and the rest was history.
Ms. Santiago, a 40-year-old teacher in the University of Asia and the Pacific, for her part was just thankful for the return of triathlon races in the country after she also won the IRONMAN Subic in March.
“I’m just extra grateful since we were not able to race after two years. Now that we’re back, there’s that extra motivation and extra hunger to win,” said Mr. Santiago, also lauding the new and majestic bike ride along the 8.9-km CCLEX.
Mr. Benedicto (35-39) and Mr. Santiago (40-44) also ruled their respective age — group categories of the race backed by City of Lapu-Lapu, CCLEX, Municipality of Cordova and the City of Cebu. Mr. Jansen (4:36:05) and John Dedeus Alcala (4:37:54) completed the overall men’s podium. — John Bryan Ulanday