Sunday morning, Ukraine’s Maksym Kriat was jubilant as he crossed the finish line, taking first place in the men’s division of the St. Croix Ironman 70.3 Triathlon.
The 26-year-old Kriat finished last year’s race in sixth place. This year he was thrilled to find he had taken the lead and held onto it.
Smiling, he said St. Croix has embraced him and made him feel at home.
Kriat, who lives in New Jersey, was worried he was going to be taken by Luke Bell, who finished second, because he started off ahead of him in the water and was also the first off the bike. However, he said he ran as fast as he could and was able to overtake Bell by just 15 seconds, finishing the race at 4:11:43.
“I took a small crash on my bike going up the hill,” he said, looking down at his bloodied elbow. “I am just happy – it was quite a challenging course,” he finished.
Catriona Morrison, from Edinburgh, Scotland, the defending women’s champion for three straight years, took first in 4:29:28, followed by Canada’s Angela Naeth at 4:32:07, and third-place winner Miranda Carfrae, from Australia, at 4:36:01.
Australia’s Bell and Richie Cunningham came in second and third respectively, Bell at 4:11:59, and Cunningham at 4:15:50.
Athletes began gathering at 5 a.m. Sunday to prepare for the grueling event. Excitement and chattering buzzed through the air as racers headed over to Protestant Cay, where the event kicked off with the blowing of a conch shell at 6:30.
After the racers dove in and swam 1.2 miles, they hopped on their bicycles at Fort Christansvaern to pedal 56 miles around the island, where racers faced "the Beast” at the 20 mile mark. The steep, twisting upgrade from the north shore is “the most challenging part of the race,” according to Kriat.
Bell led the race on the entire bike course and was the first to arrive back at the fort in Christiansted, where he led runners toward the Buccaneer Resort and back. Kriat didn’t catch up to him until the last leg of the 13.1 mile run.
The sprint race – which had 90 athletes – began at 7:45 and is exactly half the distance of the full 70.3 Triathlon. St. Croix native and defending champion Will Peil, a senior at Country Day, placed first with a time of 1:15:22, in front of V.I. National Guardsman Marcus Sydney.
“I’m sore, but I feel pretty good and felt pretty great throughout the race,” Peil said.
Medics monitored the entire course, and more than 500 volunteers handed out water at four stops along the way. There was also a massage tent, where runners could get a three- to five-minute rub down after the event.
Although this is Kriat’s third triathlon victory, he said none has been as rewarding to him as today’s.
“This is my biggest win because it’s the most challenging of all of them – I think it’s the toughest course in the world, and the biggest in my life,” he said.
As always, a $50,000 purse was divided among the top 10, with the first-place man and woman taking home $7,000 each.
An awards banquet and beach barbecue was held at Divi Carina Bay Resort from 6 to 9 p.m. Results can be found at ironman.com and complete results, sprint included, will be at stcroixtriathlon.com.