Ironman preparation reaches critical point
by Eric Johnson
Well over 3,000 of the world’s top athletes will soon be descending upon Augusta in order to take part in the ESi 70.3 Ironman on September 30. As part of our ongoing coverage of the preparation leading up to the event, the Spirit sat in on a weekly briefing between Augusta Sports Council and race Director A.J. Sills, who happened to be in Indianapolis for his brother’s wedding.
The conference call is usually between Sills and Events Manager Randy DuTeau, but since DuTeau will be participating in the 56-mile bike portion of the event, Executive Director Brinsley Thigpen sat in, as she will from here until race day.
After some confusion about who’s supposed to call who, the call gets off to a brisk start. The group exchanges pleasantries and then gets right to sorting out the myriad of details still outstanding.
The first hitch, such that it is, comes quickly, when Sills says he wants to have Broad Street shut down between 8th and 9th on Thursday evening so that workers can start assembling the finish line structure on Friday. His thought: A completed finish line heightens the excitement for the participants, who will be walking around the event area on Saturday.
“Everyone’s going to be in that mode, so if we’ve got our arch up and everything is ready and looking good, that vibe is able to be all day,” he says.
Thigpen, however, questions the wisdom of shutting down Broad Street so long before race day.
“I’m just concerned about displacing our Augusta citizens,” she says, reminding him that Broad Street is the main downtown artery.
Sills doesn’t need reminding, however. Though this is his first 70.3 triathlon, he is detail-oriented and by all accounts very thorough.
In other words, he knows the layout of Augusta like an Augustan, and it’s a good thing, because Thigpen has some curves to throw at him, courtesy of the National Guard, who instead of bringing a climbing wall has informed them they are bringing a self-propelled howitzer and between four and six Humvees.
The self-propelled howitzer, called a Paladin, concerns Sills the most, because it is a component piece — a big vehicle needing to be dropped off by a flatbed truck. At this point there will apparently be no place left in Augusta to park a flatbed truck, and you can hear the relief in his voice when they tell him finding a place for the flatbed is someone else’s responsibility and has already been taken care of.
For the Humvees, Sills clicks off several grassy spots, then makes sure the delivery time coincides with everything else that’s going on downtown.
It goes on like this through every issue still remaining — water testing, the railroad, the communications plan. Even toilet paper. No stone is left unturned.
Then, Sills talks about needing to walk off the transition area when he’s next in town.
“The national sponsors are really pushing people to come race Augusta,” he tells them, adding that they continue to add more comp racers to the point where he keeps checking registration numbers to make sure they don’t get too high without him being prepared.
“So, what do you think it is?” Thigpen asks. “3,200 participants? 3,300?”
“We’re way passed that,” he says, emphasizing that as much as they’re looking to put on a flawless race, there’s always something to learn with an eye for next year. “We’re going to have a lot of people this year, and if it means that wherever we are this year, there’s no possibility of putting people in next year, then we know that this is our cap out number.”
When the call is complete, it’s these few moments of conversation that engage Thigpen and DuTeau.
“I got butterflies on that call when he said that they’re well over 3,200 or 3,300 people,” Thigpen admits. “That’s awesome for the city of Augusta, but it makes me a nervous wreck because having over 3,000 to 4,000 people in the Savannah at one time…”
She says it’s impossible to relax until they receive the announcement that the last person is out of the water. Then they wait to hear that the last person is off the bike course.
“Only then,” she says, “are you relieved.”
DuTeau interjects that he’s feeling generally comfortable about the race, though he says he continues to remain diligent to guard against complacency.
“I’m feeling comfortable in the sense that it’s not like the very first year when it was just endless sleepless nights and you were always on edge,” he says. “But this morning I had my first morning where I woke up and thought — hmm, I should still be able to sleep for a few more hours. But instead of sleeping, I instantly starting thinking about the shuttle buses.”
It’s irrational, he knows, but that doesn’t keep him from thinking about the shuttle buses, which leads him to thinking about the next thing and the next thing.
“The second I’m diving into work, there’s a sense of calm because now, as soon as I walk in the door, I know that I can get things done,” he says.You Might Also Like: