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Recalled: The Great Equalizer

Triathlon great Barb Lindquist looks back at the inaugural—and iconic—battle-of-the-sexes race.

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As we close out International’s Women’s Month, we’re shining a spotlight on one of the greatest females to don a triathlon kit: Barb Lindquist. Particularly, one of Lindquist’s finest moments in the sport: Her win at the first-ever Lifetime Fitness Equalizer in 2002, a veritable battle of the sexes in which pro women started ahead of the pro men by a predetermined amount of time (in this case, 9 minutes and 39 seconds). Lindquist won—in dramatic fashion and in a steady rain storm—pocketing $50,000 for the win. Here, she shares her memory of the Minneapolis race and the impact it made on her life and on the sport in her own words. 

I was super excited to participate in the first equalizer in the sport. I went in confident: I was racing well, and I figured I had a good shot at winning. But still, there were some unknowns. To start, we weren’t quite sure how long the women’s head start would be until the race meeting. They announced at the pre-race meeting, by starting a digital track clock at 15 minutes and letting it run backwards until it hit 9 minutes, 30 seconds. I guess that was their way of building some excitement.

Then there was the distance: It was like three-quarters the length of the Olympic distance—kind of odd. So it was all just a new experience, but one I hoped to make the best of. And, of course, win.

My plan was just to attack it from the start and take the lead. I got cues and splits during the race, so I had a sense of who was behind me, and by how much. So I was well aware that Becky Gibbs was behind me, as well [2000 Olympian] Craig Walton. I was running scared…mostly about Craig. With about a half-mile to go, I just launched into a full-on sprint. There was just enough room for Craig to catch me, and I couldn’t let that happen.

And here’s when it could have all gone really bad. At the pre-race meeting, there was a directive that the timing mat—and the finish line—would be just beyond a balloon arch. So, once I passed that balloon arch, I stopped. From a sprint to a dead stop, just like that. And I hear everyone yelling, ‘go, go,go!’ Turns out, the finish line was not just beyond the balloons.  I had about 20 yards until the finish line. I had to will my legs to move. My muscles were seizing and I just dragged myself to that banner. That’s why I look so scared and spent in those photos. I had absolutely nothing left to give.

(Photo: Joey McLiester/Getty Images)

It turns out that I beat Becky by 10 seconds, but most importantly, I got Craig by 15. Winning $50,000 was amazing—embarrassing, even because it seemed like so much. Our sport is tough to make a living at; it’s tough now, and it was tough back then. So this was a big deal (and an even bigger deal when I won the next year and earned $250,000!). I didn’t realize it at the time, but the money I earned in those equalizer races made life a lot easier for me for years to come. I am incredibly grateful to Lifetime Fitness…they provided me with that.

Did the equalizer race change the scope of women’s triathlon? I believe it did. The amazing thing about our sport is that prize money between men and women has been equal from the start. So money wasn’t the issue—although the bigger prize purse certainly drew excitement and a great field. Most of all, it was the influence of having so many eyes on the race through the television coverage and the media attention that followed. Having a woman win it three years in a row definitely inspired the next generation of great triathletes. Those races showed that women can go out and kick butt, race tough and with integrity—and keep a smile on our face while at it.

After back-to-back wins at the Lifetime Equalizer Race, Lindquist finished third in 2004, the same year she placed ninth at the Olympic games. She retired from racing in 2005, going on to welcome twin sons in 2006 and later becoming the USAT Collegiate Recruitment Program Coordinator. Lindquist was inducted into the International Triathlon Union Hall of Fame in 2017.