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Shaffer
09-06-02, 10:51 AM
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- Two hundred-twenty Japanese and American triathletes recently braved choppy seas, a blazing sun and their own physical and mental will power in the 15th Annual Sprint Triathlon aboard Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

The grueling swimming, bicycling and running test of endurance began at 9 a.m. and showcased the athletic ability and spirit of all the competitors.

Hundreds of spectators were on hand as well to cheer on friends and strangers alike who were taking on the challenge of a 1.2 kilometer swim, four laps around the Station on a bicycle, equaling 36 kilometers, and finally a 10k run along the sea wall to the finish line.

After a grueling 1 hour, 59 minutes, 35 seconds, Masakatsu Kawamura, 2002 Sprint Triathlon champion, crossed the finish line first, nearly four minutes ahead of the Sprint Triathlon defending champion, Steven Hazlett.

"I'm cheering on eight of my friends who have been training just about all summer long to come out here and compete in this event," said Marla Sadowsky, Sprint Triathlon spectator. "The determination of these people out here in this race is just amazing. I don't think any of them are thinking so much about winning as they are to just finish."

Besides proving the sheer will and endurance of the competitors, the event also helps to bring together people from different cultures thus improving relations with our host nation, according to Doriann Geller, Marine Corps Community Services marketing director.

"Whenever you have people coming together and enjoying a common activity it's a natural bridge builder," said Geller. "A lot of the athletes here today train hard all year long and look forward to seeing and competing with each other at this event."

Kawamura came from Itamitsu to compete in the event, and had similar sentiments to share.

"We're all here to compete, but also to interact with each other," said Kawamura. "The surroundings are very comfortable with the Japanese and Americans sharing in an activity like this."

A tremendous amount of planning took place in order to ensure the safety of all the participants, noted Geller.

"To make sure there was no chance for an incident, especially in the water, we had lifeguards, divers and people on jet skis watching the athletes during the swim," said Geller. "We had volunteers set up all around the course offering water and just making sure that the participants were all okay throughout the event."

A few teams ran the event, but most athletes on the roster were up for the individual competition.

"I'm very happy about winning," said Kawamura. "Steve was in front of me and I just chased him until I caught up. Then I passed him and just kept going. Knowing what great athletes I was competing against makes this really special."

Kawamura said that his race days aren't over yet, but he did admit that he plans on taking it easy before his next event.

"I'll start training again in October for next year," said Kawamura, "but for now I think I'll just relax for awhile."