By the time Laurel Wassner, a 5-foot-2-inch professional triathlete from New York City, crossed the Robert J. Aaron memorial triathlon’s finish line Saturday morning, six men — David Powers, Ryan Siebert, Andrew Kalley, Thomas Dolan, Peter Ventura, and Mark Desautelle — had preceded her.
Powers, of New York City and Wainscott, a member of Full Throttle’s strong triathlon team, which had turned out in numbers, had crossed the line first, in 1 hour, 54 minutes, and 30.1 seconds, but when a few minutes later a reporter began to interview him, he pointed to Wassner, whose chip was being removed, and said, “She’s your story.”
Wassner, who had suffered “a big disappointment” the week before when she had to pull out of a half-Ironman race for pros in Connecticut owing to a frigid lake swim from which she couldn’t recover, cheerily said, when asked, “I might have won. . . .”
“I think she did,” said Merle McDonald-Aaron, the race director.
The initial hesitance to claim victory — the first time in Montauk’s 29-year history that a woman has won the swim, bike, and run test outright — had to do with the fact that Wassner began the Lake Montauk swim in the women’s wave five minutes behind the elite men.
So, while the clock read 1:58:24 when she crossed under it, her corrected time was 1:53:25.3, bettering Powers by a little more than a minute.
And soon after, when the top-50 results were posted by the Start-to-Finish timers on the side of a van, Wassner’s name topped the list, which in the end, was to comprise 605 finishers.
“Yes, her win was huge,” McDonald-Aaron said later. “I think the closest a woman ever came to winning outright here was Maggie [Stovickova] when she finished fourth a few years ago.”
Meghan Newcomer, 30, of New York City, who placed ninth in 1:59:35.5, was the women’s runner-up, and Stovickova, who placed 19th overall in 2:05:36.6, was the third-place woman.
Wassner, who turned pro after winning among the women in her debut here in 2007, has been undefeated at Montauk. Last year, she finished fourth over all in 1:56:58.3, the first time, McDonald-Aaron believed, that a woman had done the one-mile swim, 22-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run in under two hours.
When reminded of her 2010 time during a telephone conversation Sunday, the 35-year-old winner, who grew up in Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C., and who swam the mile and half-mile races at George Washington University, was exceedingly pleased by the fact that she’d bettered last year’s time by three-and-a-half minutes.
Wassner, whose twin, Rebeccah, also is a professional triathlete, numbers Nike, the New York Athletic Club, and TYR among her sponsors.
Her splits this time, she said, were 22:46 in the swim (which, she said, she thought was “a little long”), 51:25 on the bike leg, which took the competitors from the Star Island Drive staging area out to the Montauk Lighthouse and back, and 36:59 on the hilly 10K run.
“That’s the fastest I’ve ever run,” she said. “I’ve never broken 40 minutes on that course. I didn’t know I had it in me!”
Her swim, she thought, was “the third fastest” that day, and “the fastest among the women,” and while her bike time was two minutes behind the best men, it was the fastest among the women. Hers had been “the second-fastest” run, she added.
While she didn’t know for sure how she’d done until the results were posted, Wassner said that “three miles into the run I realized that I was close to even with the top men. I’ve never won a triathlon outright, not even a road race. . . . I wasn’t expecting it.”
Powers, 43, who won Montauk in 2008 and was the runner-up last year, sustained “a stress fracture in my fibula in early March, but I’m okay now. . . . I’m better in the swim-bike combination than in the run. Last year, Andrew Kalley [who was fourth this time] ran me down in the run.”
Saturday’s third-place finisher, 19-year-old Ryan Siebert of North Patchogue, who crossed the line in 1:55:31.3, was rooted on by his mother, Denise Hannon Siebert, who won this race in 1984 and now serves as one of the volunteers.
“He did his first triathlon when he was 10,” said Ryan’s proud mother. “He won the Mighty North Fork last year, was second at Mighty Hamptons [where she finished third in 1982], and was eighth here. . . . He and I are going to do the national sprint championships in Burlington, Vt., in the fall. He’ll do the Olympic distances, the same distances as today, and I’ll do the sprint [one-quarter mile swim, 10-mile bike, and 3-mile run]. The top 18 get to go to New Zealand!”
Steve Tarpinian, who oversees the Mighty Hamptons triathlon, as well as other triathlons on the North and South Fork, said he hoped to have John Howard, 1981’s winner, and Margot Lulla-Asiks, a six-time Mighty Hamptons winner, back for the race’s 30th anniversary in September. He would, he said, invite Wassner too.
When asked if a woman had ever won Mighty Hamptons, Tarpinian, who placed 46th on Saturday in 2:13:29.6, said, “The closest, I think, was Nicole DeBoom, who did a 2:06 in 2006. She finished in the top five. Maybe Margot was up there too. . . .”
Among the local contestants Saturday were Mike Bottini, 56, of East Hampton, who placed 54th in 2:15:30.1; Mike Bahel, 44, of East Hampton, who was 73rd in 2:20:13.2; John Tintle, 36, of East Hampton, who was 108th in 2:25:24.9, and Emi Berger, 34, of Southampton, who was 141st in 2:29:58.1.
The race went off without any major incidents, said McDonald-Aaron. “The swim was a bit rough and a couple had to come out, but there was nothing major,” she said.
When asked how much Wassner weighed, the race director said, with a laugh, “I’m not sure, but they were saying she weighed half what the men’s winner did.”
The 765 who signed up and the 605 who finished were records, McDonald-Aaron added. The net proceeds are to be shared by the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, the Montauk Senior Nutrition Center, the East Hampton Police Benevolent Association, and the Montauk ambulance squad.
Next year will be the triathlon’s 30th anniversary.
“I’m hoping for something special,” McDonald-Aaron said.