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Countdown To Kona: Mission Impossible (1995)

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With the Ironman World Championship set to take place 14 days from today, we take a look at back at each race from the past three decades. Today, we go back to 1995 and the year Karen Smyers ran past Paula Newby-Fraser in the final mile of the marathon for the win. 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 roar of the crowd crescendoed as the NBC helicopter spun into view. Puffy clouds sprinkled the heavens. Tim Twardzik of Mrs. T’s Pierogies fame stood among the cheering throng massed at the finish line and scanned Alii Drive for the first sign of the victor. The announcement had already been made, Paula Newby-Fraser, the seven-time winner of the Gatorade Ironman, was about to win number eight.

Twardzik, one of Newby-Fraser’s long-time friends and sponsors, would get to do the honors this year. After the announcement, Race Director Sharron Ackles turned to Twardzik and handed him the lei that traditionally goes to the first male and female finisher.

“She handed me the lei and said, ‘Congratulations,’” recalls Twardzik.

Moments later the world came crashing down.

“I was standing with Paul Huddle (Newby-Fraser’s fiancé), when Ken Murrah from NBC came sprinting up,” Twardzik remembers. “He yells, ‘Karen Smyers has passed Paula! Karen’s going to win the race!’ I was in shock. All of a sudden I felt empty.”

Empty or not, he knew what he had to do. Twardzik made eye contact with Race Director Ackles, but not a word was spoken. He took the lei and handed it silently back to Ackles. On this particular day it belonged to Karen Smyers.