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Countdown To Kona: Big Hair Day (1999)

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With the Ironman World Championship set to take place 10 days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we go back to 1999 and the year Lori Bowden established a new run course record. All of the following photos and text are taken from the book, “30 Years of The Ironman Triathlon World Championship” by Bob Babbitt.

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Lori Bowden was the anointed one, the women of destiny, the It Girl. She was a force of nature, unstoppable, invincible, in the zone. She was Shirley Temple curls meets Lance Armstrong lungs. She had “The Gift,” like Paula, like Natascha. She’d win six or seven or eight more Ironman titles in Hawaii after this, just like Paula. Wow, some though. Just imagine what they’ll say about her if she actually wins one.

The hype, the buzz, the expectations surrounding the 32-year-old Canadian before the 1999 Ironman were overwhelming. The question seemed not whether she’d win, but rather “by how much?” The great Paula Newby-Fraser was retired and 1998 champion Natascha Badmann was prepping for the Olympics. And the even-faster-than-Lori running of 1997 champion Heather Fuhr was nullified by a Bowden-esque swim and so-so bike.

Someone forgot to tell 1995 Ironman champion Karen Smyers that the race was over before it began. Smyers had been away from the Ironman for two years to do childbirth and a couple of freak injuries. At 38, she’s still a complete, dangerous athlete, solid in every discipline. Though short on Ironman mileage, she came back strong in 1999 with some notable short-distance wins. On a perfect day, she can hang with Bowden, she says.

“But if its not perfect, I’ll be a sitting duck,” Smyers admits beforehand.

Of the bike first, Smyers was passed early in the run by Beth Zinkand from Davis, California. Smyers caught her at mile three and moved back into the lead. But she wasn’t feeling quite that confident about her chances.

“About this time during the run, I realized that I needed to train more,” says Smyers.

Another 3:05 marathon like the one she had put together when she won in 1985 wasn’t in the cards today – and wouldn’t win it anyway. The Bowden Express had pulled out too far out of the station.

She hauled fast enough to break Heather Fuhr’s run course record by nearly give minutes, going 2:59:16.