Readers Note: This is the third story in a series of travel tales from the 2006 ITU World Championships that I helped Sherpa for my lovely wife. You can read the first two stories HERE. Please scroll down after you click.
What do you call a bunch of triathletes strutting around in their national race kit in the lobby of an old Australian hotel like peacocks on display?
You call it the USA team meeting a few days before the 2006 ITU long course world championships.
I was amazed and honestly a bit embarrassed by the spectacle. My wife and I decided that it was best to stay in the team Hotel as we were new to this entire world championship business. Basically the now defunct long course distance was about two thirds the length of an Ironman race.
The World Championship moves around every year and my wife had qualified at the Great Floridian Triathlon the year before in Florida. Now I have to be honest here and point out that most of the world’s best Iron Distance triathletes aim for the Ironman World Championship held in Kona Hawaii every year.
The ITU (International Triathlon Union) sanctions most of the Olympic distance races throughout the World, but the long course or “Ironman” distance races are really better attended, and in effect owned by Ironman. So while technically this was the world championships in the long course triathlon, most triathletes would consider it a somewhat distant second to the Kona race.
However this in no way takes away from any of the athletes competing for their country in what turned out to be a very challenging race…that is unless they happened to be strutting around like peacocks in their team kit that Friday morning in Canberra.
Canberra (pronounced Can-bra) by most locals is Australia’s reluctant capital. It was chosen as the capital as a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne. It happens to be about halfway between both cities in the middle of pretty much nowhere. It is a highly planned city with beautiful wide boulevards, well manicured parks, and lovely man made lakes. It also happens to be almost impossible to walk around the city center without crossing 25 wide boulevards with speeding cars all coming at you from the wrong direction…at least if you are used to a country where you drive on the right side of the road.
Canberra is clean, tidy, completely manicured and pretty much devoid of anything that might smack of character. It’s the kind of place where you drink too much just to forget all of the places that you would rather be at...at this moment of your life. And drinking too much was exactly what I was doing at a local English style pub. We had now been in Australia for almost a week and we had not seen one freaking Kangaroo. And that was all my son really cared about seeing in Australia anyway.
We had spent hours on the drive to Canberra looking for the mysterious beast. Every so often my wife would yell out in great surprise as she thought she spotted some with her Lasik eagle eyes. When we got closer, the Kangaroos turned out only to be very energetic cows, sheep, or windblown bushes.
So it came as a complete surprise when the pub proprietor told us that we could see a bunch of the elusive beast just a short walk from the pub. And by surprise I mean one of those “no duh” moments that I know so well from my home in Colorado.
You see I live just a short distance away from Rocky Mountain National Park. And every fall we get billions of tourists from around the nation and world that descend upon Estes Park to see the Elk rut. For you and me that would be the Elk’s mating season when the big horned bulls come down from the mountains and bugle their lust across the vast expenses of the park.
The really big and successful bulls must gather and defend an harem of females from the horny young bucks. As you would image a regular animal planet show ensues with all of the frightening, drama, and sex that nature can provide free of charge.
And all this happens mostly at the local golf course. Which of course is a shame, because all of the billions of tourist with their high powered binoculars and expensive digital cameras are crowed in the park eager to visually assault anything that remotely looks like an elk in heat.
I, on the other hand, am having a really hard time making my approach shot to the 18th hole at the Estates Park Public Golf Course because I have to shoot over a humping elk hazard. And I’m already well over par because I have yet to find a golf club that is specifically designed to blast a ball from a steaming mound of Elk dung. And believe me there’s a lot of steaming piles all over the course as these animals eat the lush grass of the 18th hole, instead of the tough scrubby grass in the national park.
So it came as no surprise when the pub’s bar tender told me to go up the hill and take a look for the elusive Kangaroos at the local golf course. And sure as Elk dung, we were treated to the sight of dozens of Kangaroos feeding, paying, hop, skipping and humping, all over the 18th fairway.
Once again these smart animals found the lush soft grass of the local golf course, a much more yummy alternative to the scrubby, sandy, and heat-baked dry land of the surrounding hills.
When will I learn?
After snapping a few digital photos of the Kangaroos we returned to our hotel for the athlete’s parade. When I had read about the parade I imagined something like we are used to here on the fourth of July or perhaps the pageantry of the Rose Bowl, or the spectacle of the Macy’s Day Parade in New York.
Basically we stood around downtown for an hour waiting for some mysterious signal to start marching. This was after milling about for two hours waiting for the official USA team photo to be snapped. Imagine the hilarity trying to get about a dozen friends lined up for a photo. Now multiply that hilarity by a factor of 10, and you’ve got the makings of a two hours photo shoot for the official USA race picture.
The parade was a lot of fun in the sort of way that walking down the street with a few hundred of your best friends would be. At one point we walked by somebody with what looked like a very serious video camera so we yelled USA, number 1, and anything else we could remember from the Olympic television coverage. We eagerly waved the Red white and blue banner for all of Canberra to appreciate on the evening news.
About a mile into the parade it turned into an unorganized leisurely walk and we decided to abandon the entire thing for a carbohydrate laden pre-race dinner. As happens at most races, we were only able to find an overcrowded and over priced Italian restaurant that server what could best be described as uninspired spaghetti at a very inspired price.
What is it about spaghetti that has made it the ubiquitous choice for any and all endurance races of any sort? I guess I wasn’t looking when somebody crowned the noodle king as the mandatory pre-race mean. And that’s a shame as I have yet to have even a remotely interesting or memorable pre-race spaghetti dinner. It tends to be a somewhat nervous and twitch affair that is crowned by the serving of the soggy noodle and mushy tomato, eaten with an equally soggy plastic fork on a flaccid paper plate.
And so it was with this meal, except that we paid for the privilege with the Aussie dollars. I suppose this pre-race ritual has now become so ingrained in my brain that it now carries with it a bit of excitement as I know that in just a few short restless evening hours we'll be racing.
Next time...the race is on.