28 years Powerman Zofingen
Powerman Long Distance World Championships in Zofingen
An event with a unique aura to the whole world
by Raphael Galliker
The Powerman Zofingen in itself is already a living legend. The most famous and toughest duathlon in the world, established in 1989, enjoys cult status. The Powerman Zofingen is to duathletes what the Ironman Hawaii is for triathletes. The goal of every duathlete is to compete in the city of Thut (Zofingen) at least once in their life to run 10km (6.21mi), cycle 150km (93.21mi), and run another 30km (18.64mi).
Bruno Imfeld and Urs Linsi brought the Powerman Zofingen to life in 1988. Urs Linsi, the aspiring young bank director from Zürich was sent to provincial Zofingen at that time to whip the local SKA (Swiss Credit Institution, today known as Credit Suisse) branch back into shape. On the 15th of December 1988 at the Raben restaurant Linsi presided over the first meeting of the organising committee “Run&Bike Zofingen”. On the 4th of June 1989 everything was ready: That Sunday morning kicked off the very first race, still known as a biathlon at the time. The race, 2.5km (1.55mi) running – 150km (93.21mi) cycling – 30.5km (18.95mi) running, instantly caught everyone’s attention in the world of sports. The first winners celebrated were Hermine Haas from Biel (Switzerland) and Dr. Andreas Rudolph of Germany. Rudolph serves as the main announcer for the Powerman to this day. Natascha Badmann, then living in Winznau, managed to take 6th place in her very first race! Born on the 6th of December 1966 in Basel, mother at 17 (daughter Anastasia), she was working as a secretary and used to be overweight. The turning point in her life came in 1989 when she met Toni Hasler from Oftringen, a former coach of the Swiss triathlon team. Toni became her partner and trainer.
The Powerman Zofingen inventors Bruno Imfeld (left) and Urs Linsi (middle) and the first winner Andreas Rudolph
Two races in one year
Zofingen was able to enjoy two trials of strength in 1990. The “Run&Bike Zofingen” was held early in the year; the cycling leg of the race was extended to 150km (93.21mi). The race was won by the American Kenny Souza and the Austrian Silvia Nussbaum. The short-distance European Championship (50km/30km/5km or 31.07mi/18.64mi/3.11mi) was also held in Zofingen in autumn and was dominated by the Swiss with Natascha Badmann and Olivier Bernhard triumphing.
The Queen of Kona
The cycling race course included the infamous Bodenberg for the first time in 1991. Americans set the tone: men’s first place was taken by Scott Molina, and women’s by “Professional Sportswoman of the Year” Paula Newby-Fraser. The 49 year old American, originally from Zimbabwe, won the Ironman Hawaii 8 times; a feat no one else was able to repeat since. The Queen of Kona has won 24 Ironman races (as of 2010) and held the world’s fastest Ironman-distance time for 14 years (8:50:53, achieved in 1994 at the Ironman Europe in Roth). It was not until July 13th 2008 when Newby-Fraser’s record was beaten by the Dutch Yvonne van Vlerken, who lives in Austria, (8:45:48) in Roth and the German Sandra Wallenhorst (8:47:25) at the Ironman Austria in Klagenfurt. Newby-Fraser still holds the fastest overall time for the Ironman Hawaii (8:55:28 in 1992) and since 1993 the fastest cycling time (4:48:30) also on the volcanic island.
1992 saw a name change in Zofingen: The women’s event became PowerWoman, and the men’s PowerMan. Mark Allen one of the most famous triathletes was competing for the first time. The American only took fourth though. On the podium stood the German Jürgen Zäck (1st), the American Kenny Souza (2nd), and the Swiss cross-country cycling legend Albert Zweifel (3rd). Erin Baker from New Zealand won for the women. In 1993 the price money in Zofingen of 200,000 USD total exceeded even that of the Ironman Hawaii. Reason enough for Allen to step on the gas, win, and fly home 40,000 USD richer. Asked about Zofingen the American would henceforth respond: “The Powerman Zofingen is the greatest race in the whole world!”
King Oli strikes
In 1994 the women would start before the men for the first time with a precisely calculated handicap. Thus there was only one overall winner. The handicap rule was cancelled again in the meantime only to be reintroduced into the program in 2004. Olivier Bernhard’s star would rise permanently in 1994. The 26 year old from eastern Switzerland competed at the Powerman Zofingen for the first time and won. He would go on to climb the top of the podium seven more times in the city of Thut. Today Bernhard is congratulating athletes at the finish line of the Powerman Zofingen and presenting medals to the best of them. In 1994 Erin Baker was once more the fastest woman. The New Zealander lost by more than 47 minutes to Bernhard.
The Swiss winning streak
On May 14th 1995 Olivier Bernhard had to quit the race after suffering a flat tire in the snow. The laurels were inherited by Urs Dellsperger, another Swiss. Today Dellsperger works for the company Biketec AG in Huttwil, which he represents each year at the Powerman Zofingen. Thanks to Bernhard, Dellsperger and Stefan Riesen the men’s race would be won by Swiss up until and including 2004! 1996 and 1997 would even see Swiss only podiums; a feat also accomplished by the Swiss women twice, 1989 and 2000. Switzerland has become one of the world’s most dominating duathlon nations thanks to further victories by Natascha Badmann in 1996, 1997 and 2000. In 2001 and 2002 Karin Thürig of Lucerne would step into the footsteps of Natascha Badmann, who to this day was able to win the Ironman Hawaii six times (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005).
Frequent leadership changes
In 1997 founders Urs Linsi and Bruno Imfeld would enter a cooperation agreement with the ITU (International Triathlon Union) which held for three years and brought the biggest attendance to the event in Zofingen since its inception. The founder-duo would pass the baton in 1998 to Rainer Huber, who later became a member of the cantonal government. The duo Linsi/Imfeld would take back the helm in 1999 once more after a one year hiatus only to release it again after the event to everyone’s surprise. This time it would be to a local, Hans-Peter Fretz, the head of finance up to this point. Barely noticed was the fact that financially 1999 was the best year in the history of the Powerman. Since early 2010 Urs Linsi is making headlines once again after becoming chairman of the loss-making Grasshopper Club Zürich (football/soccer) and attempting to rehabilitate the club on and off the pitch.
Olympia as a damper
In 2000 the triathlon became an Olympic sport. It was not viewed as a negative development for the Powerman Zofingen initially but more and more endurance athletes would start focusing on the more lucrative sport of triathlon, which resulted in a continuous loss of participants. The event in Zofingen was moved to September in 2002. Additionally, the first run was extended from 5km to 10km (6.21mi) and the second run would henceforth lead to the turning point on the Heitere place twice. Olivier Bernhard (6:25:37) and Karin Thürig (7:04:08) ensured Swiss successes.
The multi talented Karin Thürig
Karin Thürig, born on the 4th of July 1972 in Rothenburg, used to play volleyball for the BTV Lucerne (an NLB team) then trained to become an aerobic and fitness instructor and did not become a duathlete until she was 25. Because duathlon did not become an Olympic sport she decided to focus on cycling. She won 3rd place at the time trial World Championship in 2002. In 2004 she won Olympic bronze at the individual time trial in Athens, a feat she was able to repeat 2008 in Beijing. Meanwhile, the woman from Lucerne was crowned time trial world champion, 2004 in Verona and 2005 in Madrid. Furthermore she won bronze in 2004 at the track cycling World Championship in Los Angeles in the 3,000 metre individual pursuit. After focusing on cycling for two years Thürig decided to retire from the sport in September of 2009 while at the same time making a comeback in the triathlon. Karin Thürig will start in Zofingen 2010 should her plans for the season allow it.
The call for Stefan Ruf
Stefan Ruf was able to just barely rescue the event in 2003. The local banking expert, who was president of the Tri Club Zofingen for 10 years, was able to resolve the staffing shortages and with a show of strength breathe new life into the Powerman Zofingen. In just three months a new board was put together and the necessary financing secured. The athletes thanked Ruf by delivering a thrilling race. The Belgian multi duathlon World Champion Benny Vansteelant lost in the final moments of the race to the Swiss Stefan Riesen, which ended his 5 year unbeaten streak. For the women Fiona Docherty of New Zealand beat Erika Csomor of Hungary. There was a silver lining for Csomor though: this would be her last defeat in Zofingen. The Hungarian won six back-to-back titles since!
The gladiator duel
The president of the organising committee Stefan Ruf was able to present a gladiator duel in 2004. Olivier Bernhard, who had won in Zofingen seven times, would face seven-time ITU World Champion Benny Vansteelant. The Belgian, who had collided with a dog during practice on the day before leaving for Zofingen, had to quit the race after two out of three laps on the bike. In the end Bernhard was celebrated as the winner in the city of Thut for the eighth time which has earned him the nickname “King of Zofingen”.
The tragic hero
The year 2005 was marked by the Belgian invasion. Several dozen Belgians followed their idol Benny Vansteelant to Zofingen, trying to emulate the duathlon-king in the race. Belgium provided the third largest contingent after Switzerland and Germany and for the men also the superior winner, Benny Vansteelant. One year later the Belgian was able to repeat his triumph; even though the bike course was extended by 8km (4.97mi). Because the Bodenberg was closed the bike course led through the Ruedertal and thus became even more challenging. In 2007 the Belgians Koen Maris and Benny Vansteelant delivered a gripping duel at the top of the race. The latter had to quit 10km (6.21mi) before the finish line because of stomach problems. Maris won setting a new record (6:21:00). Only two weeks later the world of duathlon lost its figurehead. On the 8th of September 2007 Benny Vansteelant was hit by a car and badly injured while practicing on his bike in Hooglede, Belgium. Six days later the nine-time World Champion and five-time European Champion would succumb to his injuries in a hospital in Roeselare.
Off to new shores
The 20th Powerman anniversary brought a renaissance and many novelties. The name “Run&Bike” was back. The organising committee henceforth also focused on broadening the event’s appeal by dedicating Saturday to topics like health, new talent and charity, while Sunday became the big Powerman race day. In addition, Udo Siebert of Germany founded the Jubilee Club, where only athletes who have finished the Powerman Zofingen (long distance) ten times or more are admitted. The reward is a golden pin! Eleven men and one woman (Maja Jacober from Zürich) have joined the Jubilee Club already. On top of the leader board is the now 69 year old Willi Erismann from the canton of Aargau (Switzerland), who has finished the Powerman Zofingen every time since its inception, a total of 21 times! This year (2010) possible inductees include Erika Csomor (Hungary), John Philipps (USA), and Norbert Hubert (Germany). The trio has so far completed nine long distance events in Zofingen. But back to the Powerman race year of 2008: For the men, Andy Sutz from Schaffhausen won for the first time with more than 5 minutes ahead of the two Frenchmen Pascal Schuler and Dominique Duchene. The outstanding fourth place was taken by Stefan Lüscher of Zofingen, already 16 minutes behind Sutz. The winning time was 6 hours 29 minutes 44 seconds, 8 minutes and 44 seconds slower than the record set by the Belgian Koen Maris in 2007.
Powerman Zofingen on top
The duathlon event in Zofingen is proving very popular, evidenced alone by the fact that in 2009 more than 350 pros from 25 different countries would start at the long distance race. The total number of participants at the 21st Powerman Zofingen would even exceed 1,000, which corresponds to the biggest attendance in the past 8 years. The English “220 Magazine” listed the Powerman Zofingen among the top five triathlon events in the world. Seen this way, the Powerman Zofingen had consolidated its dominant position as the best known duathlon on our planet.
The Belgian rocket
Joerie Vansteelant was as fast as a rocket. He crossed the finish line 9 minutes and 25 seconds before any other athlete in previous events. For the 10km (6.21mi) run, 150km (93.21mi) bike race and another 30km (18.64mi) run he required only 6 hours 11 minutes and 35 seconds. Maybe the Belgian was more motivated because Swiss television would broadcast the first-class event live for the first time. His toughest opponent, the 28 year old Andy Sutz from Schaffhausen, lost in the end by exactly 16 minutes to the high-flyer Vansteelant. This winning margin happens to be the largest ever achieved at the Powerman Zofingen. Furthermore, this was the first time a favourite would be able to win in his first appearance. “Joeri Vansteelant was in a league of his own. This is an incredible achievement”, said Sutz in the finishing area. He had won the Powerman Zofingen a year earlier as a rookie, just like Vansteelant did this year.
Csomor, Queen of Zofingen
Erika Csomor ran like clockwork. The Queen of Zofingen had already competed in three other long distance events since July 2009 before her appearance in the city of Thut. Mid July she started at the Ironman Roth in Germany, participated in the Triathlon Alpe d’Huez (2.2km/1.37mi swimming; 115km/71.46mi cycling with climbs totalling 3,000m/9,843ft and for the dessert a 22km/13.67mi run) in the French Alps, and finished at the Embrunman, an Ironman with and a total elevation gain of 4,000m/13,123ft on the bike course. Remarkably, the Hungarian was celebrated the clear winner in each of those races. The 35 year old from Budapest won in Zofingen 2009 for the sixth consecutive time, this time six minutes ahead of Briton Jessica Petersson. “I will be back next year”, promised Csomor, who left for a training camp in South Korea after her fantastic performance in Zofingen.
Erika Csomor and Joerie Vansteelant
Vansteelants new track record
After a total pause of nine years and twelve years in Zofingen, ITU und IPA organized again a shared World Championships. Joerie Vansteelant increased his track record from 2009 of 6:07.15,3 by 4 minutes and 20 seconds. Humbert and Sutz were left behind. The female winner was Melanie Burke from New Zealand, followed by the Swede Eva Nyström und Csomor, who was defeated for the first time in seven years. There were more than 1'300 participants at the 23rd Powerman Zofingen edition.
The belgian dominance
The 2012 Zofingen ITU Powerman Long Distance Duathlon World Championships became a belgian tournament because of Joerie Vansteelant and Rob Woestenborghs. In the end, Vansteelant won with an advance of almost five minutes and missed his own track record by only 43 seconds. Ranked third was the Dane Søren Bystrup. The femal winner was Nyström. She missed with 7:05.48 the track record from the Swiss Karin Thürig from 2002 by only 100 seconds. Second place went to the Briton Lucy Gossage, third place to the Dutch May Kerstens. It was the fastest race ever as well as in the male and the female field. There were no Swiss athletes on the podium for the first time since 2005.