Welch Takes Triathlon Win In Familiar Stride

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Keep this up and the San Diego International Triathlon soon will become Greg Welch's private playground. Visitors are welcome, but don't plan on doing any better than second place.

For the second consecutive year, Welch, an Australian who now is of Encinitas, won the eighth running of this event with a numbing defeat over the rest of the elite men's field. His time of 1:26.12 over the 1K swim, 30K bike and 10K run course, which began at Spanish Landing and ended in Seaport Village Sunday morning, shattered the 1:27.27 mark he set last year on the same course.

Did we say numbing?

Although complaining that the water in the San Diego Harbor was cold--race officials said the temperature was 65 or 66--the chill had a speeding effect on much of the men's field. The second- and third-place finishers, Guadalajara, Mexico's Bernardo Zetina (1:26.54) and Encinitas' Paul Huddle (1:27.14), also eclipsed Welch's 1990 record.

The women pros didn't force the issue of speed. Carol Montgomery, of Vancouver, Canada, was well off three-time defending champion Paula Newby-Fraser's course record of 1:34.56, but her winning time of 1:36.48 was enough to pick up the first-place check of $2,000.

"I heard (the record) was very controversial last year because of drafting," Montgomery said, referring to the technique cyclists use to cut their times and get ahead in a race. "There was no drafting this year."

Montgomery, 25, raced behind Michellie Jones most of the morning, until Montgomery, known as a strong runner, caught the Australian 2 1/2 miles into the run.

"I know Michellie fairly well," said Montgomery, fresh off a win at last weekend's Bud Light U.S. Triathlon Series stop in San Jose. "I knew if I was 35 seconds behind her, I could make it up. I don't think I could have made up any more (distance) than that."

They ran together the next 1 1/2 miles until Montgomery sped away and left Jones', who was second in 1:37.28, thinking about her track work.

"I thought she would catch me on the bike," said Jones, encouraged by her strong second leg. "I was surprised I held her off as long as I did, but she was running twice as fast as I was."

Welch, 26, wasn't twice as fast as the rest of the men's field, but he almost ran circles around it. After trailing New Zealand's Brendon Downey after two legs, Welch made short work of Downey's 30-second lead going into the run transition. He quickly made up the difference and passed the 20-year-old Kiwi less than a half-mile into the run.

Welch, the current world champion, had blistering splits of 4:38 and 4:40 on the fifth and final miles. Catching Downey, who eventually faded to eighth, never was a question.

"I didn't expect to win," said Downey, who used this race as a warm up for the upcoming Junior World Championships. "I was hoping for top five, but I went out a little too hard on the bike and I suffered."

Said Welch: "I knew who he was, so I let him go."

Late last Tuesday, Welch returned from two weeks in Europe, where he won a triathlon in Germany and didn't finish another in France. In that race, the Nice Triathlon, he ran into some trouble on the cobblestone streets and the front wheel on his bike disintegrated.

"I'll tell you, it was a death wobble," he said of the harrowing experience.

No such problems here. Welch was aware that Zetina was running well--"I saw him flying and I thought I should get with it," he said--but he still breezed through the finish line, unaware he had set a new course record.

"Is that right," he asked. "I didn't feel like I had it."

Triathlon Notes

A another (good) day at the office for the Hansen twins: Seattle's Joan Hansen, in her third race as a professional, picked up $750 as the third finisher in the women's field here. Also on Sunday, her twin sister, Joy Hansen, of Newtown Square, Pa., won the U.S.T.S. stop in Baltimore . . . Encinitas' Paula Newby-Fraser, recovering from a brief racing stint in Europe, didn't defend her back-to-back-to-back titles in this race. . . . Greg Welch picked up an additional $500 for breaking the course record.

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