By MICAH LEWTER
KOHALA COAST — Saturday’s Ironman 70.3 Hawaii may have started and finished at Turtle Pointe, but slow and steady had no part in the race.
The top two men both broke the overall course record, and the top female finisher did the same as records fell like they were flimsy structures trying to stand in the Kohala wind.
Former cycling great Lance Armstrong used a record-breaking bicycle time to pass his opponents and claim the event in a time of 3 hours, 50 minutes, 55 seconds. Australia’s Greg Bennett, a former Olympian, was second in 3:53:41.
Both times eclipsed the previous record of Chris McCormack, who completed the 2007 race in 3:57:18.
Armstrong finished the 56-mile bike ride in 2:01:46, passing former frontrunners Bennett and Chris Lieto, who placed third (4:05:55).
On the women’s side, Linsey Corbin of Mizzoula, Mont., recorded the fastest time for a woman since the event became a half-Ironman in 2005, rushing through in a time of 4:25:13. Michellie Jones set the previous best in 2005 with a time of 4:28:16.
The trademark Kohala winds were out in force on Saturday for the half-Ironman-distance race, much to the chagrin of most, but to the delight of Armstrong.
“It was a day I hoped for,” he said to the crowd at the awards ceremony. “I wanted it to be like that.
“You know when you wake up and see the flags flying like that and the trees bent over, it’s going to be a day.”
Armstrong, who autographed several hats, T-shirts and even a baby, did not make himself available to the media.
Armstrong came out of the 1.2-mile swim in third place behind Bennett and Lieto. But he quickly took over the lead, passing Bennett on the sixth mile of the bike course. Lieto also passed Bennett, and at the bike-to-run transition, he held second place.
But some tight gluteal muscles hobbled Lieto toward the end of the bike and the first mile of the 13.1-mile run.
“I had to walk that first mile,” Lieto said. “I saw my son, and I asked him to pray for my glutes. He said he prayed for me the rest of the race. It must have worked, because they felt better.”
Lieto, who is a part-time Kailua-Kona resident, recovered to finish third with a time of 4:05:55.
Bennett passed Lieto during the first mile on the 13.1-mile run course, and he shaved more than 4 minutes off Armstrong’s lead during the final leg of the race. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the seven-time Tour de France winner.
“He ran a great run,” Bennett said. “I ran the run in 1:18, and no one has run it faster. But I couldn’t catch him.”
Corbin likewise had to pass opponents on the bicycle portion of the race. She splashed out of the water in 27:10, 9 seconds behind Julia Grant and Kailua-Kona’s Bree Wee. But Corbin pedaled past the others at about mile 6.
She completed the bike leg in a time of 2:25:02 and entered the transition area well ahead of the pack.
Grant finished second in 4:30:17, Beth Walsh took third in 4:31:47, and Wee ended up fourth in 4:32:45.
“I think the elements today made it memorable,” Corbin said. “We always remember the hard things better than the easy ones.”
Wee struggled to maintain her balance after her finish. She won the event in 2011 with a time of 4:42:32. Even though she shaved nearly 10 minutes off her time, she finished fourth against stiffer competition.
“I had a goal to finish in the top three,” Wee said. “But I took 10 minutes off my time from last year, so I’m focusing on that instead of missing out on the top three.”
Many elements came into play on Saturday. There was no shade for most of the course. Cyclists battled rain going from Kawaihae to Hawi.
And there was wind. Bikers battled crosswinds. Runners had tailwinds and headwinds. And the 20-35 mph winds even blew some swimmers off course, causing a couple to miss the final buoy and forcing them to retrace their path.
The wind caused some problems for Bennett on the bike course. He said he had trouble controlling his bicycle, but Armstrong compared the winds to an event he has raced before during his cycling career. So he felt comfortable in the wind.
The elements did not slow down Kailua-Kona’s Penn Henderson. He was the second age-grouper and the first full-time Big Island resident to finish. He placed 11th overall with a time of 4:20:45, nearly 2 minutes faster than his 2011 time (4:22:42). Californian Chris Hauth, the 2005 70.3 Hawaii champion, completed the course in 4:16:54, good enough for eighth overall and the top age group time.
“I feel great,” Henderson said. “(Hauth) used to be a pro, and I cut 2 minutes off my time. I’m very happy.”
The big question for many of the competitors is the qualification for the Ford Ironman World Championship, which takes place Oct. 13 on the Big Island.
A points system will determine the the professional Ironman field, with only the top 50 men and top 50 women earning spots. Prior to Saturday’s race, Armstrong was ranked 57th with 2,305 points.
“I’ve got to qualify,” he told the audience when asked about his desire to participate in October’s race. “This race was only worth 500 points, so it’s not even as many points as my lowest finish.
“No one’s going to roll the chariot out for me. If I qualify, I’ll go.”
For Big Island age-groupers, the luck of the draw comes into play. The Ironman lottery will take place at 6 p.m. June 9 at Bike Works in Kailua-Kona.