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With the Ironman World Championship set to take place 17 days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we go back to 1992 and the year Christian Bustos challenged Mark Allen on the run. All of the following photos and text are taken from the book, “30 Years of The Ironman Triathlon World Championship” by Bob Babbitt.
It starts slowly but can quickly – and totally – consumer. One minute you’re powerful and confident, all-knowing and in control. The next minute history is not only your major but your middle name. You’re suddenly, without warning, a quivering shell.
Powerful? Not any more. In control? Sorry. He’s been traded of an emotion to be named later. Confident? Connie left on the early bus. All-knowing? Replaced by his friend All Over.
When doubt creeps into subconscious, fatigue and failure are usually waiting at the door, bags nearby, planning to stay for the night. And after six hours of hand-to-hand combat in the lava fields, three-time defending Gatorade Ironman Champion Mark Allen was about to succumb.
After arriving in Kona, Hawaii a week before the October 10 multisport championship of the world, Allen set aside part of each evening to visualize, to play out the upcoming race in his head. After all, no one likes surprises.
“I really try to go over the race in my mind,” says Allen. “I go through every scenario. I saw myself racing Greg Welch (in second in 1991) and I saw myself with Pauli Kiuru (fourth in 1991). But I couldn’t get this fear out of my mind that there was going to be somebody on the run who I considered stronger than me. At first I thought it would be Jeff Devlin (third in 1991), but it was never clear. I’d convince myself that I’d be all right, but I hadn’t resolved that fear.” Allen paused momentarily, thinking back. “It was interesting. The night before the race, all of a sudden Christian Bustos’ name came into my mind.”
Allen had reason to fear Bustos, who won his first-ever marathon in Santiago, Chilie in 2:19. That win got him a ticket to Frankfurt, Germany, where he ran a 2:16. At the Pucon Triathlon in Chile the previous January, Bustos came off the bike with Allen and put three-and-a-half minutes into him during the 10-mile run.
“In Chile, we came off the bike together,” Allen remembers. “All I saw of him was his back disappearing in the distance.”
October 10 dawned Ironman cool. Temperatures in the mid to high 80s, partly cloudy, no 50-mile-per-hour gusts anywhere. As the triathletes plunged into Kailua Bay, Allen stopped thinking about Bustos. He wasn’t even sure if Bustos, last year’s ninth-place finisher, had entered the race.
When the top swimmers emerged a little over 48 minutes later, the German, Wolfgang Dittrich, was the first out of the water and the first to leave the transition area on his bike. Right behind him was Australian Greg Welch, the guy Allen went head-to-head with for nine miles on the run the last time they met in Kona. Allen, swimming better than he has since college, was two minutes behind Welch.
Right off the bat Allen had to play catch up on the bike. He didn’t bridge the gap until mile 20. At that point the group was led by Kiuru of Findland and included Welch, Allen, Dittrich and every press person in Hawaii with access to a motorcycle and a camera.
The pace on the bike was intense, with Kiuru doing most of the pushing.
“In previous years it was too slow a ride,” insists Kiuru. “I decided to push the pace.”
Behind the lead pack, Bustos was making up ground in big chunks. “I feel good on the hills,” says Bustos in broken English. “I was getting more close… more close.”
“When I glanced at the leader board I saw Christian’s name was there,” says Allen. “The next thing I knew he was with us.”
Christian, were you surprised to catch the lead pack on the bike? “No,” Bustos says solemnly. A pause, brown eyes sparkling. A big grin. “Not surprised… VERY surprised!”
Along Alli Drive Jurgen Zack rode off of the front and put a minute on the chase group by the end of the ride. He was already out on the run by the time the others arrived. Bustos was quickly in and out of transition, followed by Kiuru, Allen, Welch and Dittrich.
Allen ran off after Bustos, not feeling particularly good.
“It took me two miles to make up 15 seconds on Christian,” he says. “That’s when I realized that he wasn’t very tired from the bike.”
Eventually Allen caught Bustos and the pair ran together. One-on-one racing evolves over time in a long race like the Ironman. One move then another. Allen likes to test his oppenent’s resolve on the Pay & Save Hill about nine miles in.
Bustos didn’t budge.
Eventually after 14 miles of hard running, Allen could sense that Bustos could be had. On an upgrade between miles 14 and 15, Allen picked up the pace and Bustos fell off.
Allen’s 2:42:18 marathon gave him a seven-minute cushion over Bustos at the end and a record-breaking overall time of 8:09:08.