Bernhard, Marshall claim Ironman Switzerland titles

The overcast sky hung low over the hills surrounding Zurich for the start of the fourth Ironman Switzerland on Sunday.

Nearly 1,200 competitors (a record) lined the beach along Lake Zurich for the swim start at 7 a.m. The two-loop swim course had competitors running over a small island lined with cheering spectators at the halfway point.

Australian Daniel Heckenblaicher was nearly the first out of the water, but was quickly passed by fellow countryman Rina Hill, who grabbed the fastest swim split of the day in 47:48.

The bike course wound through the small farms and villages surrounding Zurich for two laps. Last year's winner, Peter Kropko of Hungary, who was 30 seconds behind out of T1, chased down the early leaders on the bike to establish a small lead of his own. However, it wouldn't last. Hometown favorite Olivier Bernhard (first in 1998 and second in 1999) passed Kropko on the long hill climb and maintained the lead on the second lap.

Soon after the leaders left T2, the skies open up in a torrential downpour. The transition area quickly turned into a mud pit as more and more age-groupers came in from the bike course.

Bernhard stayed in the lead on the three-loop run course to win in 8:12:27, followed by Peter Kropko in 8:21:05 and German Paul Kemper in 8:25:41.

"I didn't have a perfect race, but I was very happy with my performance," Bernhard said. "I didn't have any real highs or lows; I just had a steady race."

Kropko was simply happy to finish and take a warm shower in the Irongarden, a collection of first aid tents, massage and catering services, showers and whirlpools unique to Ironman Switzerland.

In the women's race, Rina Hill started out with a four-minute lead after her spectacular swim. Fellow Australian Robyn Roocke soon took the lead on the bike, with Tara-Lee Marshall (New Zealand) and Katja Schumacher (Germany) not far behind.

Marshall, who placed second last year, established a position up front and was the first woman into T2. Rooke caught her during the first 10k of the run, but wasn't able to maintain the pace.

Marshall won in 9:15:54, followed by Rooke in 9:26:23 and Ariane Gutknecht (Switzerland) in 9:28:09. Hill, who dropped back from the leaders on the bike, posted the second fastest run of the day for fifth place in 9:39:39.

"This is my first win; it's a dream come true," Marshall said. "At the end, my legs started to bother me - I was getting cold - but otherwise the weather didn't bother me too much."

For the rest of the age-groupers caught in the rain while still on the bike course, it was a long, wet, muddy afternoon and evening. At the awards banquet on Monday, however, many said they would be back next year despite the weather.

Ironman Switzerland

1. Olivier Bernhard, 8:12:27
2. Peter Kropko, 8:21:05
3. Paul Kemper, 8:25:41
4. Jason Shortis, 8:30:33
5. Markus Forster, 8:34:54

1. Tara-Lee Marshall, 9:15:54
2. Robyn Roocke, 9:26:23
3. Ariane Gutknecht, 9:28:09
4. Katja Schumacher, 9:30:34
5. Rina Hill, 9:39:39

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