Potts returns to defend Ironman title

LAKE PLACID – In the 14 years that Lake Placid has hosted an Ironman race, there has never been a repeat champion in the men’s professional field. American Andy Potts hopes he will be the first when the 15th Ironman Lake Placid takes place on Sunday.

Potts was one of five professional triathletes on hand Friday for a press conference at the Ironman Village set up in the Olympic Speed Skating Oval, which is the site of the finish line for Sunday’s race. The 36-year-old native of Hershey, Pa. was joined by Italy’s Daniel Fontana, Americans Hillary Biscay and Dede Griesbauer, and Carrie Lester of Australia.

Potts, a former all-American swimmer at the University of Michigan and a 2004 Athens Olympian in triathlon, isn’t the first men’s champion who has returned to Lake Placid looking to defend a title. But he certainly is a favorite to become Lake Placid’s first two-time men’s winner after coming up less than 2 minutes shy of setting an overall course record a year ago.

“There are a lot of races out there where you can go to defend a title,” Potts said. “Every year I like to try new courses and familiar courses, and I’m back. It’s nice to go to a course and know what to expect.”

Potts won last year’s Ironman Lake Placid in 8 hours, 25 minutes and 7 seconds, which was ever-so-close to the course record established by Simon Lessing in 2004. He was barely pressured in that race, finishing more than 21 minutes ahead of the next-closest competitor.

“Records are part of the game,” he said. “If one falls and my name happens to be on the top of it, I’ll be happy. But if you start thinking about the finish line while you’re swimming, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt. Just because it’s the same sport and the same course, it’s not the same race.”

Fontana, a 37-year-old who was born in Argentina and now lives in Italy, is making his first appearance in Lake Placid with the hopes of unseating Potts.

“This is my first Ironman in the US,” said Fontana, who competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. “My goal is to win an Ironman and that’s why I’m here.”

Fontana got his first look at the bike course Thursday, riding the entire 56-mile loop that racers will pedal on twice.

“Yes, I did the whole course,” Fontana said. “It was challenging but very beautiful.”

When it comes to Ironman experience, Biscay is at the top of the list. The 35-year-old resident of Tucson, Az. will be looking to cross an Ironman finish line for the 62nd time on Sunday, and hopefully as the women’s professional champion. She placed third in Lake Placid in 2008 and then won the Ironman Wisconsin two months later.

“Sixty-two on Sunday, that’s the number one goal,” said Biscay, who competed in her first Ironman race in Florida in 2001. “My first Ironman if finished in 12:29. The bike took me seven hours. I’ve come a long way.”

Two years ago, Griesbauer, a 42-year-old native of New Jersey, had a horrific crash on her bike in Germany. She’ll be racing Sunday after recovering from a broken pelvis, back and elbow that she suffered in the accident.

A 10-time All-American swimmer at Stanford University, Griesbauer is making her first appearance at the Lake Placid Ironman. She has two Ironman victories, Ironman UK in 2006 and Brazil 2009, and three top-10 Ironman World Championship finishes to her credit.

Lester, a 32-year-old who turned pro in 2009, owns two Ironman championships in her native Australia from 2010 and 2012 and hopes to add a Lake Placid title to her resume. Lester said she’s been eyeing a trip to Lake Placid since the start of her career.

“It’s been on my list pretty much since I’ve done my first Ironman,” Lester said. “I have a soft spot for these little ski-town type places, and now I’m here. It’s beautiful.”