Panama City Beach, FL---For 15 years, Ironman Florida has sent triathletes through PCB's gulf and roads, yet the 16th edition of the race Saturday, saw change.
For the first time ever in race history, competitors who lined the white sand beach, ready to go at 6:50 AM, were told the swim portion of Ironman was canceled due to unsafe conditions and currents.
Emergency personnel couldn't get themselves out on the water, nor felt they would be able to properly look after the athletes with winds causing trouble, so the triathlon now became a duathlon.
"Based on the information from the emergency services and riptide warnings, it was an easy decision to make for the swim to be canceled," said race director Ben Rausa. "We made a notification to all the athletes and all the spectators that we we're going to cancel and were going to do a time trial start based on their numbers."
Based on how the pros have performed all season, they went out one-by-one for their 112 mile treck, peddeling their way up and down highway 79, 20, 77, and 388.
The athletes then pulled back into Boardwalk and trade their two wheels for a pair of running shoes.
The final stage had triathletes advance to the marathon, 26.2 miles looping twice around a course leading the field to St. Andrews State Park and back.
The one who owned the course, Canadian Lionel Sanders, who's overcome battles with drug and substance abuse to now win Ironman Florida in his pro debut, clocking in at 6:58:46.
"Probably my biggest motivation is I remember I had an ex-girlfriend at the time (of battling his addiction)," said Sanders. "I had been turning my life around, and I had been sober for about six months. And I said 'Take me back, take me back. I'm sober now. I'll never go back to that lifestyle'. And she said 'You know what? You're a drug addict. And I don't think you can change and I don't think you have changed'. Those words stick in my head and they're my biggest motivating factor. And I believe you truly can change when you truly really want to change for yourself. And that's what motivates me to go as high as I can and be living proof that you certainly can change and become something great in the process."
The female winner, making history at Ironman Florida, was Dutch triathlete Yvonne Van Vlerken comes in at 8:01:47. She's the first woman or man to win three straight events, also winning at Boardwalk in 2012 and 2013.
Top five professional Men’s results:
1. Lionel Sanders CAN 6:58:46
2. Tom Lowe GBR 7:17:53
3. Maxim Kriat USA 7:24:50
4. Joerie Vansteelant BEL 7:29:31
5. Pedro Gomes PRT 7:29:45
Top five professional Women’s results:
1. Yvonne Van Vlerken NLD 8:01:47
2. Camilla Lindholm SWE 8:36:28
3. Ashley Clifford USA 8:36:55
4. Rachel Jastrebsky USA 8:39:43
5. Michelle Bozarth USA 8:50:13