Culture

Recalled: The Rich Tri History of Pucon, Chile

The Chilean race will kick-off the 2022 season.

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On Jan. 6, Ironman 70.3 Pucón is set to return after COVID scrubbed the race (and many others) off the calendar. A triathlon mainstay since the late 80s, it’ll kick-off the 2022 season and has attracted the biggest names in the sport for several reasons. Not only is the timing unique—and ideal for athletes who want to start their season at the start of the new year—but so is the setting: With the soaring, snow-capped Villarrica Volcano looming large in the backdrop, a black-sand beach along Villara Lake, and land covered in lush greenery, the views serve as a (slight) distraction from the uber-tough terrain. Here’s a look at some of the highlights of this race’s rich history in advance of the next edition.

1987: Picking up on the burgeoning buzz around multisport in Chile, a sales manager from Hotel Pucón stages the very first Pucón Triathlon in the southern city, featuring a 600m swim, 20km bike, and 7km run. While Chilean legend Cristián Bustos takes top honors for the men in the inaugural race, there are no records of any women competing until the following year. 

1988: CJ Olivares, then the editorial director of Triathlete, writes a story for the magazine in which he calls the Pucón race “the most beautiful in the world,” drawing eyeballs to the event. A change in distance (increasing to a 1600m swim, 64km bike, and 16km run) also attracts more competitors from outside of Chile. 

1989: American star Mark Allen heads to Pucón to headline the men’s pro field, which he handily wins. Later that year, Allen goes on to win his first of six Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Allen returns to Pucón (and wins again) in 1990 and 1995, and his presence there attracts a deep pro field for years to come. 

1991: As it did on the men’s side, the women’s pro field widens with more international athletes and the 1991 podium features an American (Liz Downing), a Canadian (Terri Smith), and a Chilean (Claudia Cortes). American women go on to dominate in Pucón for the next several years, with Downing, Wendy Ingraham, Siri Lindley, and Jill Newman each taking top honors between 1991 and 1998. 

1993: Hometown hero Bustos completes a trifecta, winning back-to-back-to-back from 1991 to 1993 (most notably defeating rivals Allen and Scott Tinley in ‘92). All told, Bustos finishes first five times in Pucón.

1998: The race distance is altered again, this time bumping the run to 16km (the swim and bike remain the same). Oscar Galindez lands on the top step ahead of Bustos, setting the stage for the young Argentinian to become the race’s winningest male with an eventual total of six titles (1998, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009).

2001: As the 70.3 distance grows in popularity, the Pucón course changes once more to become Chile’s first official half-Ironman triathlon.

2002: The Lisa Bentley domination begins, with the Canadian superstar grabbing  her first of six straight wins in Pucón. Her dramatic W in 2006—during which she came from behind and inched out Hungary’s Erika Csomor by just two seconds—was on the heels of a 25-day layoff due to an appendectomy. 

2007: Bentley puts an exclamation point on her Pucón reign by posting a PR and a course record of 4:28:49, a mark that stands for over a decade. 

2008: Pucón is picked up by Ironman, and officially renamed Ironman Pucón 70.3. With the acquisition comes 30 slots for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships (held in Clearwater, Florida that year), and race registrations increase dramatically to some 1,600 athletes. 

2010: Four years after announcing his retirement from racing, Bustos returns to Pucón and places 19th among male pros at the age of 44, just outside his goal of cracking the top 15.  

2011: With a steady rain and temperatures hovering around 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the swim is canceled and the race changes to a duathlon format, featuring a 5km run, 90km bike, and 21.1km run. Italy’s Daniel Fontana and the United States’ Linsey Corbin claim victories.

2013: Brazilian Reinaldo Colucci captures one of the closest wins in race history, out-leaning Fontana by three seconds to snag his third of four total Pucón titles. History is also made in the women’s side, with local favorite Valentina Carvallo becoming Chile’s first female athlete to claim the crown.

2015: The South American victory streak is cracked on the men’s side, with Australia’s Richie Cunningham becoming the first athlete from outside of the continent to win since 2002. (Coincidentally, it was another Australian, Craig Walton, who won that year.)

2018: Canadian Lionel Sanders bikes ten minutes faster than everyone else in the pro field (and follows it up with a 1:16:25 run split) to win his second Pucón title by eight minutes. His finish time of 3:48:44 is more than 12 minutes faster than his winning time in 2017 and crushes the course record, formerly held by Colucci, who went 3:52:38 in 2010. 

It’s a speedy day on the women’s side as well, Chile’s own Barbara Riveros smashing Bentley’s course record by nearly 10 minutes (4:18:52) to wrap up her fourth-straight victory in Pucón.

2019: Riveros makes it five in a row by breaking the tape nearly six minutes ahead of Alicia Kaye of the U.S. On the men’s side, Brazil’s Santiago Ascenco seals his three-minute victory over Andy Potts of the U.S. with a 1:17:55 half-marathon split.