It was the ultimate tri equalizer: Take the best male and female triathletes in the world, give the women a head start (in this case nine minutes and 30 seconds), put up a $50,000 check for the first person across the line, film the action for a national television audience and then sit back and watch the fun.
Bahram Akradi, CEO of Life Time Fitness, hosted the first ever Battle of the Sexes at his Life Time Fitness Triathlon (0.75-mile swim, 21.3-mile bike and 4.9-mile run) in Minneapolis on July 23, 2002. At the time, if you won the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, you’d come home with $100,000. But if you took second place in the eight-hour event? The money dropped off to $30,000.
So $50,000 to win an event that took less than an hour and 40 minutes was huge. And the racing—done under dark clouds, rain, and lightning—was spectacular. Barb Lindquist remembers that at the pre-race briefing, the pros were told there would be some timing mats that actually designated the finish line. So when she was leading as she approached the line and saw what she thought were timing mats, she came to a complete stop. “I slammed on the brakes,” remembered Lindquist. “Then everyone started yelling, ‘Go, go, go!’ and I realized that I still had work to do. … When I was forced to sprint another 20 yards at that point, my muscles were screaming, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and totally locked up. I was racing on fumes.”
Lindquist literally fell across the line for the win in 1:37:02 with second-place finisher Becky Gibbs (now Becky Lavelle) only 10 seconds back and Australia’s Craig Walton another five seconds behind. At that point, it was the biggest win of Lindquist’s illustrious career. “I was almost embarrassed to tell my friends back home how much money I made at that race,” she admitted. “It seemed like a fortune.”
The following year, the purse skyrocketed from $50,000 to $250,000—and Lindquist won again. “I heard Bahram say once that one of the purposes of the big prize purse at LTF was to change lives,” she said. “He and LTF did so for me. … I think because the first race was so exciting—three athletes within 15 seconds—it gave Life Time the courage to go bigger and better in the years that followed.”
This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.
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