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Countdown To Kona: Checkmate (1991)

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With the Ironman World Championship set to take place 18 days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we go back to 1991. 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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The two are locked together in mortal combat. Sweat beads up on both foreheads as they survey the board and scan the memory banks. They search endlessly, desperately for the back breaker, the killer, the piéce de résistance… the mother of all moves.

Pawns, rooks, and castles are all willingly sacrificed for the win, the only goal that matters. When you are on the other side of the table, the pause, that calm before the storm, can seem like forever. A deep breath is taken and “The Move” is finally made. A smile plays at the corner of the lips of the mover and the word that always follows the mother of all moves is spoken loudly and clearly, ending the game, ending speculation, ending any what ifs. So goes the game of chess. And so goes the yearly game known as the Gatorade Ironman.

Last year, Paula Newby-Fraser had trouble in the swim and came out of the water behind Erin Baker. Then she tried to go by Baker on the bike. Wrong.

“She was attached,” Newby-Fraser says. “It was like, ‘That’s it. There’s no way she was going to let me ride away.” Eventually it was Baker who got away on the bike, and the race was over.

“I said to myself, ‘This is okay,’” says Newby-Fraser. “’Second is okay.’ I just wasn’t willing to hurt that much.”

Baker is considered the better overall runner of the two. She’s run a 2:36 marathon. At the 1990 Canadian Ironman, Baker put together a 2:49 marathon, destroying Newby-Fraser’s lead – and her psyche – in the process.

“When Erin caught me by the turnaround, I thought she had cut the course,” remembers Newby-Fraser. “I just fell apart after that.”

Newby-Fraser was asked if she felt she needed a lead off the bike on Baker. She thought not.

“Not necessarily,” she says. “If I can keep myself together mentally, if I can push through on the bike, I should be strong in the run.”

Newby-Fraser was feeling extremely confident on the bike. She rode with Allen one day and he had trained with Baker.

“Mark was very encouraging,” remembers Newby-Fraser. “We did a ride together and I tried to hang on his wheel for as long as I could.  He said I was staying on his wheel a lot longer than Erin could.”

Defending champion Baker’s strategy was exactly the same as Newby-Fraser’s.

“I planned to hammer the first 30 miles of the bike,” says Baker. “I got her lead down to 40 seconds at one point. But the next split was two and a half minutes. From that time on to Hawi (the turnaround), I didn’t feel good. I couldn’t drink at all and threw up my water. It wasn’t a good day either I trained wrong or I was psyched out when I heard how good Paula was doing.”

For whatever reason, Baker was flat on race day. She had trained in the heat of Palm Springs with her husband, Scott Molina, and Scott Tinley a few weeks before Hawaii.

For Newby-Fraser, 1991 was redemption.

“Last year I wasn’t prepared for this race,” she says. “I was capable of beating Erin, but I was burned out. My personal life wasn’t in order and it bothered me that I didn’t give her the race that I thought I shouldn’t have given her.” A long pause. “I just didn’t have what it took.”

To see the complete Countdown To Kona series click here.