GLOUCESTER — This thing could've easily have gone all wrong.
Think about it. A first-year event with over 800 participants, many of which are first-time triathletes unfamiliar with the rigors that make this competition so difficult. If the 1/3-mile ocean swim didn't do-in a competitor, then it was quite possible that the sharp right bike turn at Magnolia Avenue would. There was also the very possible chance during the week leading up that the unpredictable New England weather would make this thing a nightmare. Imagine all the hard work that would've gone to waste if we had a June-caliber string of rain.
However, all of this negativity never did rear its ugly head. Instead, the first-ever Gloucester Triathlon was indeed a giant success, increasing the possibility that this event will return next summer and will become a staple for summers to come on Cape Ann.
"Everything went according to plan," said Race Director Bill Burnett. "The swim course was fine. We did have four people come out of the water due to tiredness, but we got them. Everything worked out great. It was totally smooth. No traffic issues. No bike issues.
"We've had amazing feedback. Everyone from elites to beginners commented on how well-organized this event was. That's what we tried to develop as a team preparing this race."
The event did certainly benefit from having a stellar cast of organizers, including accomplished triathlon stars Janda Ricci-Munn and Jarrod Shoemaker.
24-year-old Ethan Brown of Lowell was the first to cross the finish line after completing the 1/3-mile swim, 15-mile bike ride and 3.2-mile run. He finished to a rousing applause in front of hundreds of spectators lined up at the finish line on Main Street. Hundreds of other spectators were sprinkled throughout the course to take in the landmark event, whether it be on Pavilion Beach for the swim or St. Peter's Square and Western Avenue for the bike portion.
"It was unbelievable," said Burnett. "Main Street has never been like that before for a sporting event."
Close behind Brown was Tony Delogne in second, followed by Wenham's Dean Phillips in third. The top female finisher was Canadian (British Columbia) Alicia Kaye, who now resides in Maynard.
Each of these aforementioned triathletes are world-class and have competed all over the country and beyond. But each regards the Gloucester race among the finest competitions they have taken part in. From the atmosphere right on down to the actual race.
"The crowd on the race course was great. They were really into it and looked to be having a great time," said Delogne. "Most of the time it's just the families watching the race but here there were a ton of people. Usually everybody is still sleeping when the race goes off, it was nice to see everybody wake up early and support the race."
"One of the best spectator events I have competed in," she said. "The number of people on the race course cheering you on was amazing. The town really embraced the triathlon. Some places I go, it seems like triathlon day is a hassle for them, but here everybody was enthusiastic and made it a much more enjoyable experience."
The event was the perfect blend of novices and professionals. It was the third leg of the Commonwealth Triathlon Series, which also featured races in Cohasset and Marlborough. Thus it attracted locals who wanted to see the best triathletes in the world in action, or locals who wanted to support family members and friends that were competing as a way to challenge themselves, or just to simply have fun.
Gloucester has always been a city full of people who support hosting events and this was no different, despite the fact that much of downtown was not accessible for driving, making getting around a bit of a chore.
Essex's Marnie Lawler is an experienced triathlete and a local. She was one of the many competitors that had her own personal cheering section at yesterday's event, led by her four children. She and her friend Nan Gorton Demaso finished the race at nearly the same time. Gorton Demaso, who grew up in Gloucester, and Lawler co-own Hilltop Training out of Manchester Athletic Club and helped train many of the local competitors for the event.
"It went really well," said Lawler, who competed with a slightly injured hip, but competed in the elite division to see how she could perform. "Safety-wise there were tons of volunteers out on the course directing people. The run was hot because there wasn't a lot of shade, but the swim was great. It was a lot of fun."
The only problem from this writer's point of view was the delay in getting official times out to the public. Several people involved with the event said that the times of the competitors were not to be posted until 6 p.m. last night. Considering the event cleared out before 2 p.m., that is a minor hiccup that will need to be solved next year.
But hey, this was after all the first year. Not everything can be perfect. But this was as close as it can get.