By Danny O. Calleja

winners_thriathlonLEGAZPI CITY, Aug. 9 (PNA) — They dined together, drank together, enjoyed laughter together, worked out together and slept under one roof together to, at the end of the day, compete with each other.

These people, 300 of them, were the lineup of elite class triathletes who, from various parts of the world, trooped to this city starting as early as Thursday this week for the 2nd Mt. Mayon Triathlon staged here Sunday as a kickoff event for this year’s celebration of the Ibalong Festival.

“From thousands of miles across the world, these top-class sportsmen and women are in the city showing how this competition, now only on its second year, is making friendship among them very close as if they are a closely-knitted family even as they are here to compete with each other in this prestigious event,” City Mayor Noel Rosal said. Nadia Ruiz, hailed as the “Iron Girl” of world triathlon, agreed.

“With tears of joy, I am so honored to be invited to participate in the Mt. Mayon Triathlon. For 11 days for the first time of my life, I am staying in the Philippines, most of these in Legazpi City, to be with these great friends,” she said. Ruiz, 30, a Biology teacher from Playa del Rey, California, USA, is a four-time full Ironman finisher, frequently in the top of her age group.

She said she is greatly mesmerized by the beauty of Mt. Mayon, thrilled by the fast race on the exciting track of this competition, loved the support and hospitality of the people city and fascinated by the friendship she developed with her fellow athletes and with the race organizers, including city officials. According to Maria Claire Adorna, a gold-medalist in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore, Mt. Mayon Triathlon is one of the best in the world owing to the unique scenery, especially the Mayon Volcano.

“I hope this will be a yearly event of Legazpi because it has good route and scenery. I enjoyed the hills while running, I love to swim off the boulevard,” she said, adding that although she did not win the race, being a part of it alone is already a great accolade for her. This year’s competition, following its first staging last year, also as among the exciting sports events organized by the city government for its Ibalong Festival celebration, according to Joe Matias, one of its organizers, has been enhanced with longer swim distance and a rolling running track.

Last year’s competition was voted into the second slot of the search for the 2014 Run Race of the Year Awards organized by the SWIMBIKERUN.ph (SBR.ph), the biggest online multi-sport community forum. Overall, this year’s track is of an Olympic distance—1.5-kilometer ocean swim at the Albay Gulf off the shoreline of Legazpi Boulevard, 40-kilometer bike to the city boundary with Sto. Domingo, Albay and 10-kilometer run over the hilly road of the city’s upper  barangays.

Monica Torres negotiated this overall distance in two hours, 19 minutes and 51 seconds—an improvement of her last year’s 02:20:35 — to retain the championship in the Elite Women category she won last year. Her victory also reaffirmed her “Fastest Filipina” label earned from Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines 2000-2004 and the first Philippine Triathlete to win overall female titles in international triathlons. At the same time, Torres also holds the title as the only Philippine triathlete to win a podium place in the professional category of the Ironman brand event. “We are all winners here. Nobody loses in a race like this because everybody wins the heart of each other with the deep friendship developed among us by Legazpi City through this event,” she declared following the awarding ceremonies led by Rosal.

Other winners in the category were Bohol’s Maria Hodges, second place, with her 2:22;19 time; and Lanao Del Norte’s Lea Coline “LC” Langit, third, 2:35:05. In the Men’s Elite category, depending champion Benjamin Raña of Tabaco City, despite improving his last year’s clocking of 2:07:08 to 2:06:25, placed only second as he vowed to Australian Mitch Robins who finished the race in 1:59:10 to win the championship crown. Third place was Mark Anthony Hosana with his 2:09:37 clocking.

Besides being one of the most exciting and tourist-packed inclusion to Ibalong Festival, the Sunday race is also an official entry of the city to Visit Philippines Year (VPY) 2015, the yearlong invitation from the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) for everyone to discover the country’s best destinations and events. Ibalong Festival is a yearly non-religious fiesta depicting here Bicol’s early beginnings based on the Ibalong Epic written by the late Prof. Merito Espinas that tells of mythical super heroes, villains, monsters and wild animals in the ancient times.

First celebrated in 1992, the celebration –which relives the epic featuring the extraordinary feats of strength, courage and heroism of these ancient heroes — has since then lived to become the longest running tourism promotion-related festival in the Bicol region that expresses warmth and goodwill to all people and encourages visitors and tourists to celebrate with the Legazpeños. Declared by Pres. Aquino through Proclamation No. 991 dated March 30, this year, VPY-2015 is in response to the need to consolidate the activities and products of the public and private sectors into one calendar of events to showcase the outstanding work of Filipinos in music and arts, lifestyle and entertainment, sports and adventure, business, and history and culture.

It also seeks to unveil the many historic treasures, natural wonders, and unforgettable adventures of the country to the fact that tourism can be used to mobilize resources for enhancing infrastructure and product development, generate employment, and stimulate investments. (PNA) CTB//FGS/DOC/CBD/SSC