Race Coverage

So Good to be Back!



GEAR WEST HALF & OLYMPIC COVERAGE - For almost two decades Final Stretch produced numerous great multisport events. Unquestionably, the greatest of these was the Liberty Triathlon at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve. When MARK BONGERS, Final Stretch's owner and ebullient teddy bear of a guy, chose a new career path in 2018, Minnesota's tri community was truly saddened.

There was something about Liberty that was too good to die. Almost immediately it was understood that it would return someday. Several groups considered resurrecting the event. Then two years ago, JAN GUENTHER, owner of Gear West Bike and Triathlon who also happens to be our state's most decorated multisportswoman, and extroverted California exile JOHNNY SURPRISE (photo), committed themselves to making it happen. For them, it was time to stop talking, and start doing.

And they did, with all their heart and soul (and some awesome sponsors!). Last Sunday, triathlon returned to Lake Rebecca and the mood was joyous. The day was beautiful, sunny, no decernable smoke, and  temps were agreeable for most of the event's duration....

Appropriately renamed the Gear West Half and Olympic, the races were able to use as much of the original Liberty course as was available considering that road constrction season was in full-swing. The goal is to return to the  original courses, with a few signature tweaks, in the future. 

The available routes necessitated multiple loop bike and run courses, thus the eventual distances were not standard 70.3 or Olympic. The long course bike route was, according to several GPS readings, 58.5 miles, and the Olympic run was just over 6.5 miles. 

The turnout was "intimate" and the vibe was more celebratory than competitive, though there were some serious athletes  who pushed themselves through gusty winds and over relentless hills to strong performances. DAVID KOPPEL and GABY BUNTEN in the Olympic race JAKE KEEHAN and KORTNEY HAAG in the Half-plus sped to lonely leads and never looked back. If they had, they wouldn't have seen anyone, anyway.


For Nationals-bound KOPPEL, the win was his fourth straight, and his 2:02:03 was the equivalent of a sub-2-hour on a standard distance course. And let's not forget the wind and hills. Our point is that DK should kick some ass in tortilla-flat Milwaukee next weekend.

BUNTEN, in her first full season of professional racing, not only won the women's race, she placed 2nd overall, a feat that KORTNEY HAAG duplicated in the estimated 72.2. The win was Kort's 24th of her career, anda state women's record 10th at the half IM distance. Her 4:47:48 was the estimated eguivalent of a 4:40-and-change, which unofficially would have been the 4th best women's time in Liberty history. (Note: Haag owns Liberty's women's CR, a 4:35:45 set in 2012.)

Speaking of equivalent performances, JAKE KEEHAN's victorious 4:20:58 half IM debut, translates to a 4:14 at true 70.3. Impressive!

Jake has submitted a race report that will post later this week.


The women's Olymic race featured a strong group of national-class woman. The Top five: 1. Bunten - 2:15:08, 2. BECKY YOUNGBERG - 2:22:10, 3. CHERYL ZITUR - 2:25:20, 4. DIANE HANKEE - 2:28:21, 5. ANDREA MYERS - 2:30:54.

And while it's fun to write about what happens at the front of races, it was what was happening further back that truly made the experience beautiful. Happy people celebrating the return of an iconic event at an iconic venue. LANG HUNT (photo R), for instance, was told by his surgeon prior to scalpeling that his running days were over. That surgeon then repaired the knee so "excellently" that Lang, after nearly two years of walking with a "Verbal Klint" limp, finished the Gear West Half, doing so in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin this fall.

That's good stuff!

The Minnesota M.O. has always been "wait and see." Those who were waiting-and-seeing whether Liberty could be successfully resurrected missed a great event, but they now know that Gear West Half and Olympic were awesome, thus they have no excuse for not doing it next year.  RESULTS