As the dust settled and the banners were taken down on Monday morning in Bolton, there was no reason to believe that the following week would be anything other than the quiet one after the most monumental day on the 2018 UK multisport calendar. After all, there is a shortage of signature races until at least the club relays at the end of August and the St Helens Triathlon on September 9th. However, July 21st would be a date like no other, one which would change the status of St Helens Tri forever and establish them as champions like never before.
It all started so quietly with the midweek time trials coming up with little other than Robert Chesters setting his second-quickest time over the last three years on Tuesday night as he stopped the clock with a 23:07, good enough for equal 12th place with Arthur Winstanley. Things got a little warmer, in more ways than one, two days later as Kevin Dunbar, who is looking to take on long multisport challenges of his own in the near future, placed third and won his age group at the Scorcher 50k ultra run in Salwick near Preston. So with two results to get the ball rolling the second half of the season was underway nicely, but they would all be forgotten about just 48 hours later.
With a myriad of qualifying races and both European and World Championships to participate in, navigating the ETU/ITU qualification process can be very difficult to keep up with, and as such, after Mark Turner’s spectacular top ten in the ITU Duathlon two weeks ago, the ETU Standard Distance Triathlon Championships had been overlooked by most club members, but not by Steve Williams, who made the trip to the former Soviet Republic of Estonia for the 2018 European Championships held in Tartu.
Featuring a 17th-century university, a “kissing fountain” in the Town Hall Square and a ruined cathedral, Tartu has positioned itself as the cultural capital of Estonia in recent years, but on the weekend of 21-22 July it took on a very different, modern image as it played host to hundreds of athletes from all over Europe starring in age ranges from 15 to 84 years old. Racing in the 65-69 division for St Helens Tri was Steve Williams, who only joined the club a couple of seasons ago having been a keen cyclist for many years. A regular at the Tuesday night “brick” sessions comprising bike and run courses, he has become particularly rapid on the time trial bike he bought around 12 months ago from then-club member Mark Livingston, and that would become a major factor in the almost indescribable drama that was about to unfold. The competitors were set off in their respective age groups……….and then it was time for Steve Williams to being the 1500m swim, 40m bike and a 10k run. Of course, Steve had only recently played a starring role in a race of similar description having come ever so close to getting on the age group podium at the ITU public race at Roundhay Park in Leeds six weeks earlier but here on the world stage he was right into a barnburner of a race from the opening swim stroke, and was out of the water with every chance of coming up with a result for the ages. Anyone who has been to the Tuesday night brick sessions will know that Steve has been in the form of his life at recent gatherings – indeed his time over five laps of Pimbo on July 10th would have put him in the top 5 of the club’s TT championship a couple of years ago – but what he came up with in this tiny former Soviet Republic was unlike anything a club member has ever done, as he completed the 25 miles on the bike in under 65 minutes (which would have beaten several competitors at the Liverpool Phoenix 25 mile TT on the night he was powering round Pimbo) and another sub-50 minute 10k run confirmed the seemingly impossible:
STEVE WILLIAMS, EUROPEAN TRIATHLON CHAMPION 2018.
Let that one sink in for a minute or two. It has happened. The club has a European champion. Now, this would be a special story no matter who won their respective age group. However, we should also remember that few, if any, Team GB competitors rise to such status off the back of only a few years of experience, many will tell you that the results they earn as they advance through the age group ranks are the fruits of many decades of swimming, riding and running, if only one or two depending on their chosen sport. While some club members are rarely out of the weekly reports simply for their regular achievements amidst a near-weekly schedule of racing, Steve has shown how committed training, an enthusiasm for the sport and focus on the events that matter the most can make even the most improbable of success stories a reality.
The club could have been forgiven for arriving at the Manchester Tri Club Boundary Breeze Triathlon the following morning with the equivalent of a mental hangover but eight members went to this relatively rural setting for an event that has very much become a staple of the midsummer calendar over the years. Rarely does a week’s worth of reporting go by without at least one of Che Heard and Emma Austin (pictured below) featuring at the sharp end and this race was no different, as they were out of the water separated by mere seconds. Ultimately Che’s greater familiarity with his bike proved to be the difference as he pulled away to be first club member home (6th overall and under the 70 minute mark) but Emma’s first outing on her new bike was still a memorable one as she was first under 20 female home, while the pair were split by Dave Gaskell, his sub-38 minute bike split lifting him to just outside the top 30 and fourth in his category. Myka Heard managed to keep the tearaway two in sight in the lake and a combined bike and run time similar to that of Emma lifted her to second in her age group, while she was joined in the top 100 by Paul Riley who was particularly speedy on the bike. It was a very close run thing between Carole James and Rob Preston for next over the line and at one point it looked as though Rob would catch his teammate at the finish, but Carole held on to be sixth club member home by just 18 seconds, also beating the 90 minute mark into the bargain. Cheryl Pace and Tony Doyle rounded out the day’s action, with Cheryl continuing to improve with every race since she joined the club from Penny Lane Striders and Tony running Cheryl close for much of the event. A fine way to end a very special weekend where Steve Williams wrote his name in the club record books as the first ever to win a European Championship. Next week’s signature race is at MediaCity UK for the Salford Triathlon, where a 10k road race is also held in early September. With several Ironman entrants somehow recovering in time to take to the murky waters of the Salford Quays, it promises to be a fitting finale at an iconic venue to round off one of the greatest months in club history.