It was a row of champions for the 29th Subaru Ironman Canada pre race press conference.
On the far left was 2006 Ironman Canada champ Jasper Blake, then 2008 champ Bryan Rhodes, defending champ Viktor Zyemstev and 2009 winner Jordan Rapp. Beside him was Kim Loeffler, an Ironman National champion, Sara Gross, who placed second in Ironman Canada in 2007 and defending champ Jordan Rapp.
When the athletes were asked about what part of the course instills fear in them, Blake had the crowd in stitches about the transition area.
“I typically take off all my clothes and get changed in transition. You should probably fear transition,” said Blake, breaking the crowd into massive laughter. “Don’t come in there. Sometimes I forget to get dressed in my clothes and do a mile or so before I realize.”
Four years ago Jordan Rapp faced the challenge that is Subaru Ironman Canada.
It was his first foray into Ironman races and the triathlon in Penticton is also where he earned his first big win in 2009.
That is among the reasons why it means so much to the American. The other reasons this event is so meaningful to the 31-year-old is because it’s home to he and his family for half the year.
“There is no place that means more to me than this town,” said Rapp, during a pre-race press conference attended by media and the public. “I get to do a race where you roll out of bed, walk a kilometre to the start. It’s a unique experience and not one that I would trade to do pretty much any other race in the world.”
While Rapp holds an American passport, the Ironman website has him listed as representing Canada. Rapp said in ’09 he was shown as representing the U.S., while two years before it was Canada though he didn’t reside north very much.
“Whenever I race in Canada, it’s about 50/50 what they tag me as,” he said. “Since I’m the only one in my family that doesn’t have a Canadian passport, I will probably get one at some point. I certainly feel that I’m at least half Canadian.”
Other Canadians participating are Victoria’s Sara Gross, 35, and Jasper Blake, 38.
Gross, who resided in Penticton for a year, said she loves the community. When she races Sunday, it will be her seventh time.
When asked about the pressure of competing on home soil, the new mother said she feels more pressure depending how prepared she is.
“I don’t really feel more pressure than usual,” said Gross, who is looking forward to having a good race following a year off. “In fact, I really like having a lot of people around that I know being able to walk around the expo and say hi to everyone. It’s really kind of invigorating for me.”
Blake is glad to return to where he participated in his first Ironman. He told the crowd it has been interesting to him to see how much things have changed.
“I really cherish this place as a Canadian,” said the father of two. “This is kind of home soil. I just love being here.”
Defending champion Viktor Zyemstev said there is a lot of pressure on him: “Oh yeah, it’s big pressure,” he said to a laughing crowd. “I just relax you know.”
Defending women’s champ Meredith Kessler will try for the third time at her 40th Ironman. She had “hiccups” at Ironman St. George (Utah) and Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
“It’s a really scary thing when your body shuts down,” said Kessler, who is excited for Sunday. “I think what makes us the most authentic as professional athletes is how we come down but then how we get back up. As long as upstairs matches downstairs on Sunday it should be okay.”
Kessler on Penticton: “First of all I love that it’s in wine country. That makes me very happy to know that my family and I will go wine tasting on Monday and Tuesday. It’s just a beautiful course. It’s hilly. I like hills coming from the Bay area. Just to come back and have the opportunity, not many times are you able to try and defend the title. I’m really excited to be here and I welcome the opportunity.”
Bryan Rhodes, 2008 Ironman champion, said this is his one and only shot to try and make it to Kona.
“I think I have to get podium to make it,” he said of Kona, his motivation. “It will be 10 times in Kona and that’s bloody enough.”