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Thoughts and Images from the 2011 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

Chris Lepik reports on his experiences.

After a 14-hour flight from Toronto I found myself at the Abu Dhabi International Airport unloading my bike box and a big pile of over-packed bags. Standing beside me was Canadian XTERRA phenom Melanie McQuaid who was also on the flight, although she had started hours before me in Victoria, B.C. We had both travelled to take part in the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon – her as a Pro athlete and me as a journalist and age-grouper. McQuaid seemed much better prepared than me. She had her efficiently packed bags and practically-sized bike box and was being taken away by someone she had arranged to meet her, while I was struggling to stack one of my duffels on top of another and see how many shoulder bags I could balance while trying to wheel my bike case and find a cab. Clearly we could see who was the Pro.

We arrived in separate vehicles at the host hotel the Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan, a Five- Star luxury hotel located beside the Emirate’s Palace. At first glance it was obvious this was the beginning of an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Melanie and I exchanged brief words at reception but we were both tired from the Etihad flight and I’m sure she was just as excited as I was to get checked in and get some rest.

The next day, a buffet breakfast of French pastries, omelettes, turkey bacon and Ful Mudammas, an Arabic dish made with Fava beans and olive oil was followed by a press conference and athlete interviews. The athlete in me said ‘eat and rest’ but my journalist hat said ‘press conference and interviews’. At the press conference it was exciting to hear the legendary Faris Al-Sultan talk of his excitement with the impressive Pro field in a race he was instrumental in starting. He was flanked by current World Ironman Champion Chris McCormack and former World Ironman Champion Craig Alexander in a race being touted as the duel in the desert.

After the press conference and photo-op, the journalists began to battle it out to see who could get interviews with whom. Time is precious during these times and opportunities must be carefully chosen. Daisy Bannerman, the organizer who helped coordinate the trip, asked if I wanted to sit down with Craig Alexander. That was a no-brainer. I set up my video camera and the two-time Ironman World Champion came over to chat. The one thing about Pro’s is, well they’re Pro’s. Craig was gracious, thoughtful, polite and happy to answered all my questions. I did a quick interview (which appeared on the Triathlon Magazine Canada Facebook page) and then went scouting for more interviews. Unfortunately as luck would have it Faris Al-Sultan had left, Julie Dibens was tied up and Chris McCormack liked to talk, which meant every journalist who got there before me kept him busy until the autograph session.

After the press conference I got a chance to sit down with Angela Naeth, a young woman who hails from Prince George, B.C., who has definitely made her mark on the 70.3 circuit. Naeth seemed a bit nervous, not so much because of the interview, but because this was her International debut and there was $50,000 at stake for first place. In the brief time I spent with Angela, I got a glimpse into a small-town Canadian girl who’s definitely been given a shot at glory. She’s racing against some of the best women in the sport and she can hold her own. She’s a little shy and modest however fiercely competitive. We spoke for about 15 minutes and I pieced together a five-minute spot that also ended up on the Triathlon Magazine Canada Facebook page.

Race day came and went and I’ll talk more about in a feature that will appear in an upcoming issue. What I will say is that the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon is that hands down it was the most impressive race I’ve ever attended – both as an athlete and as a journalist. As an athlete, the course was both exciting and exotic, as one couldn’t help feeling a little prestigious racing in an international race with such an impressive a pro field to rival Kona (and you don’t even have to qualify).  As a journalist, the organizers were incredibly accommodating and I was given every resource I required, aside from my 15 minutes with Macca, but that probably had more to do with that fact that he’s a man who likes to talk.

I would like to thank Etihad Airways for making my 14-hour flight not seem like 14 hours, the Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan for ruining any other hotel experience I ever have with their luxurious hospitality, Tara Norton (who was missed in Abu Dhabi by the way) and the folks at Absolute Endurance in Toronto for getting me fit enough to finish the bike course. It was a tough race.