Panama City Beach, FL- Familiar faces were the theme for Saturday's Gulf Coast Triathlon. Last year's male and female winners were both back in the field and looking for repeats. Over 1,1000 other athletes joined them in the half iron man race for 4-7 hours of swimming, biking, and running.
At 6:20 this morning the 28th annual GCT started with the always tough 1.2 mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico. The water was choppy making for an even tougher swim. The oil slick did not pose any problems for participants during the swim, and after the swim there was no time to rest as they switch to the bike. In the bike ride Mike Neill, a four time defending champ, led the men's pack over the 56 mile course through panama city beach and west bay.
Coming out of the bike ride both Neill and Caroline smith held onto a significant lead on the 13.1 mile run. There was no surprise who came home first, as mike Neill, the 38 year from British Columbia, Canada, won his fifth GCT in 4 hours and six minutes.
Neill said, "It feels great to get that fifth win. Like I was saying earlier to show up for the same weekend five years in a row and just be healthy enough to race, it's just a bonus to win. To win five times is great."
On the women's side the leader all day was Caroline smith, and she crosses the finish line with a time of 4 hours and 33 minutes to take the win. It’s her second in a row.
"It was a rough swim but it was a fun swim,” Smith said. “I love it when the water's like that. The Gulf can serve up a really good time out there. It was a lot of fun. To go back to back is just sweet."
The top local triathlete to finish was Helen Libby. She finished 3rd in the pro division with a time of 4 hours and 57 minutes. That was good enough for 6th overall in the event.