TRIATHLON fans were treated to a classic ending last year as two of the country’s finest triathletes—August Benedicto and John Philip Dueñas—figured in a taxing sprint finish for the men’s Filipino elite title.
On Sunday, Cebuanos are going to find out if it happens again in the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championships as the two face each other anew.
Benedicto and Dueñas were only separated by six seconds last year, with the former walking away with his third men’s Filipino elite title in Cebu. Dueñas, on the other hand, has won second place twice and third place once since joining the 1.9-kilometer, 90K and 21K run race.
Benedicto and Dueñas were on the podium for three straight years, a testament to their force in the half-ironman distance. Benedicto won the title in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and also nabbed second place in 2013. Dueñas got second place in 2014 and 2015 and third place in 2013.
The race this Sunday, however, won’t focus on the two triathletes alone, as nothing is more stacked than this year’s Filipino elite field.
Joining the men’s fray are the 2013 Filipino elite champion Banjo Norte, national team member for triathlon John Leerams Chicano, developmental team for triathlon Emmanuel Comendador, lone Filipino Xterra Pro Joseph Miller, Jonard Saim, Jorry Ycong of Repro Optima, Omega Pro Tri Team aces Paul Jumamil and Kristiane Lim, marathoner-turned-triathlete Noel Tillor, among others.
“Sa ngayon maganda ang training ko. Nakita ko na ang (Filipino elite) lineup at masasabi ko na talagang napakabigat, talagang hindi mo malaman kung sino ang may malaking chance na manalo kung hindi matatapos ang race,” Benedicto, who turned 32 last Tuesday, told Sun.Star Cebu in a telephone interview.
The reigning back-to-back champion Benedicto of Alaska Tri-Aspire said that he’s more driven to return to Cebu now that he’s a father to Abed Nego, who’s now seven months old.
He admitted that juggling the training time and taking care of his son is no easy task but it makes him more motivated and determined to reach the goal.
Benedicto trained for a month in Germany, the hometown of his wife, before going back to Tarlac. He arrived in Cebu last Saturday and has been training with local Filipino elites.
“I arrived early here and I’ve seen the Filipino elites, I’ve joined the training of John Philip (Duenas) and Banjo (Norte) and other Filipino elites. The Cebuanos have improved a lot which will make the race this Sunday very much exciting,” he said. “I’m excited and at the same time nervous for the race, I’m going to give my best and whatever the result I’ll be happy with it.”
In a separate interview, multi-titled Cebuano coach and triathlete Dueñas said that this year’s race will be going to be a stiff one and will be anyone’s game.
“There’s only a very little gap in the times of the participating Filipino elites. This will be a close one and anything can happen during the race. I can say all have equal chance to win it,” he said.
Dueñas is the long-time coach of Olympic-bound Mary Joy Tabal and has been very busy all year long with the training of his ward—from the qualifying races to the conditioning for the Olympics.
“The busy schedule because of the training of Mary Joy (Tabal) has somehow affected my own training for Ironman, but I look at it as a good factor. I stayed focus for this race and on my training program, I hope I can endure the challenge on race day,” said Dueñas, who also won third place in the 2013.
For the past three years, Dueñas was in the podium but the title remains elusive for the former Southwestern University stalwart runner.
“It’s also one of my ambitions to win the crown. I think all of us in the Filipino elite dreams to win that title. I hope this year is finally the year for me,” said Dueñas.
Dueñas is keeping his fingers cross that this month will be great both for him and his athlete Tabal, who will be competing in the women’s event of Rio Olympics in Brazil on Aug. 14.
The 29-year-old Dueñas of Motor Ace-Kawasaki Racing Team got the needed boost when he had a short stint at the Thanyapura Sports Hotel in Thailand last May. He trained and got inputs from four-time world champion Chris “Macca” McCormack and triathlon coach Ricky Phathip.
“I’m more on quality training for this year. I asked advise from McCormack and was told to choose a training program comfortable for me,” said Dueñas, who has seen improvements on his bike after the stint in Thailand.
Dueñas hopes that there will be no spectators crossing the street during the race, like what happened last year.
“The triathletes are going fast and if there’s a person crossing the athletes will stop or change direction and this will cause us precious time. Every second counts for us especially the pros and Filipino elites,” he said.
According to Dueñas, they were neck-and-neck with Benedicto in the final meters of the run segment last year, but he was forced to change direction when a spectator suddenly crossed the street.
The organizers, however, has said that they will installing barricades and more marshals on the race course for this year’s edition, which is an Asia-Pacific 70.3 Championships race.
“I always look forward to Cebu race because it is well organized and the Cebuanos are very accommodating. The race shows the beauty of Cebu and Philippines in general,” said Benedicto, who hails from the small town of Paniqui, Tarlac.
The Filipina elite division, on the other hand, will have defending champion Monica Torres, Cebuana Louie Villacin, Ana Karina Brown, Maria Hodges, among others.
The Cobra Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championships draws 2,900 participants from 43 countries. The race will start and end at Shangri-La Mactan Resort and Spa in Lapu-Lapu City, and will cover the cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Talisay.
The main event of the race, which has a total cash purse of $75,000, is the battle of the professional triathletes.