'94 World Championships, Kopell op dem Bos, Belgium.
Mar'94. The call came out of nowhere. There is an organization called Conseil International Sport Militaire (CISM) that is the military version of the Olympics. I received a call from the United States Committee and was asked to be part of the triathlon team representing the United States. ‘Took me a bit to close my stunned mouth.
For the US it's a Military Championships. But all the other countries have a draft military system where all of their males end up in the Reserves. So for the Military World Championships, they just take their Pro, Olympian and World Cup contenders and put them on temporary Active Duty. I'd been doing some of the World Cup races, but the overall participant list of this read like a Who's Who of Triathlon Magazine. It was humbling.
And also great timing. I was just then coming back from destroying a knee snowboarding a couple months previous.
Although the Belgian sports officials treated us like kings, everyone stayed on a Belgian Army base that was pretty austere. The cool part was that you could just walk down the hall and go see what was up with the Italians, Russians, Czechs, Aussies or what-have-you. Or you could go cheer up the French by politely saying "hello" and then letting them treat you poorly. And don't tangle with the Belgian Army, I've seen what they eat. That morning gruel was never positively identified. But what was truly amazing was the week of ceremonial stuff and pageantry that goes along with world sporting events.
The Belgians had set things up so that we had official functions in each of the towns involved in the race. After these banquets and fests the Belgians would invite us out for beer, etc. I didn’t buy a beer all week. First time someone asked me for an autograph I almost burst out laughing.
Race day was nuts. There were millions of people. We were just getting organized and key teammate Mike Garcia came up sick. Mike and I had been racing neck-to-neck for two years and now he was out. Note that both Mike and his wife, Gail Lawrence, continue to this day to hold world rankings, as opposed to say....me. Our team did not read like a Who's Who from Triathlon Magazine. Without Mike, our team score just went to shit. I might do ok, but our team score needed most of us in the top 25%.
The swim was in a canal of yuck-water. 10 seconds before the start I dog-paddled over to a Russian lass and kissed her for luck. Ok, she was not really what you would call attractive, but I was still pleased with myself. And yes, she did kick my ass in the swim. Probably for fear of being kissed again. Ok, my swimming may suck, but you beat a Russian national swim champion.
Then it was cycling time, time to make up for my inept swimming. The amazing “Time Machine” (a la HG Wells), although frighteningly skittish, is incredibly fast. I was now on my bike. My element. It was time to turn into a raving axe-murder maniac and ride with such insane freaking intensity that'd we'd blow by people like they were standing still. So riding this unstable rocket like a berzerker, sucking wind like a jet turbine and frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog, I started reeling folks in immediately.
Had only one close call. Screaming down a canal road I was approaching it's bridge at full tilt. It would be a 90 deg. turn on to the bridge and I was determined to make the turn at full speed. Set up and leaned hard over, only to find that they had used some hay bails to border the turn. “GO GO GO FASTER FASTER, HARD INTO THE TURN, HARD!"....turned into "CHIIIIIIIIT!!!" I wrenched the Time Machine almost to horizontal. "HAY BAILS?" Gawdamn that was close.
For those cycling fans, Eddie Merckx waved to us as we rode by his house.
About 1/3 of the way through the 40km (25mi) ride, the Time Machine was still passing people left and right, when we came up on one of the Swedes. I was suddenly seized by stupidity and as we drew abreast with him I hollered “Hey Sweden”...He looked over....and I wiggled my tongue out at him with a ”NYAAAAH”. And we popped the nitrous.
After waxing poetic with the Swede, I realized that I was losing some of my insane axe-murder intensity. I had to quit dicking around. Gawdamnit we were there representing the United States of America. And we'd come to kick some ass. And new meat awaited ahead.
Couldn’t believe the crowds. 2 deep along the entire course and 6-8 deep around the transition area/finish. Amazing to hear all of the yelling and cheering. Amazing.
The ride seemed to end quickly. But it was getting darn hot. I dumped the Time Machine, grabbed the running shoes and started reeling more people in. When everyone kills you in the swim, there ends up being a lot of folks to pass later on.
We were suffering from the heat, and my guts started getting angry about the fluids I took during the ride. Story of my life. So at about the run 1/2 way point, hammering folks turned into just trying to survive. With about a mile left, things were looking bleak for the normal strong surge. My cramped up guts had so screwed up my breathing that I was only able to take in shallow little gulps of air. New plan. Kick just the last 400m, breathing or no breathing. I figured heck, I could just breath later.
As the finish neared, everyone was starting to pay attention to the folks behind them to identify threats. It was time for psy-war. When the guys up ahead would look back, I’d look as ragged as I felt and just generally no more threatening than, say Bambi. But I was sneaking up a closer and closer. I had to ALMOST get up to the point where they would start worrying. If I got too close, then the trail guy would pick it up and the domino effect would have them all going deep into emergency reserves, racing for the finish, with me several hundred meters back thinking “oops, doom on me”.
At 500m out I had sneaked up within 70m. The guys up there were spaced about 10m apart. At 350m I closed up to within 40m and got ready to give it everything I had. Ramming speed. I had to pass with such violence that they wouldn’t even think to challenge. It had to be a surprise attack that blew them away before they even saw it develop. Easy enough for the first guy, but that third guy was gonna be a problem. He’d sense what was happening behind him.
I bolted forward. Up on my toes, driving with my arms for everything I was worth.
Was mentally screaming to myself. "Full speed before I hit the first guy". "Got the bastard. Now the second" "Quiet down the feet, quiet.....GO GO GO...GOT him." 100m left, I was moving up on the last guy. We sprinted neck and neck for the finish, the crowd going nuts, the other guy grunts in agony, then his coordination just dissolves, he falls away and I was through the gate.
First American and 34th in the world.