T'was the night before Israman

Two inspirational defending champions, an incredibly tough course with tough conditions ... welcome to the race that embodies Israel to a T, the Israman Triathlon.

| January 24, 2019 | NEWS

Israman defending champions Antonina Reznikov (ISR) and Till Schramm (GER).

Israman defending champions Antonina Reznikov (ISR) and Till Schramm (GER).

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

This is my second time here in Eilat, Israel to cover the Israman Triathlon. I came out of it two years ago feeling that the race really embodied Israel. It's a tough, independent, incredibly well organized race that, thanks to the volunteers and organizers, embraces one and all who are willing to be part of the event. The attitude seems to be "if you step up, we'll make sure your experience is like no other."

And I'm saying all this the night before the race.

Tonight I was asked to help interview some of the pro athletes during the pro introduction and I ended up being blown away by my conversations with the two defending champions. It all adds to the incredible spirit of this event, one which promises to be quite a race.

The "are you kidding me award" goes to:

Five years ago Antonina Reznikov was cleaning a hotel room here in Eilat and looked down to see what all the bedlam was about in the streets below her. It was the Israman triathlon. The mother of two decided on the spot that the next year she was going to do the race. Within two years she was on the podium here, finishing third in the full-distance race. The following year, 2016, she took her first Israman 226 title. Last year she added a second.

Today, when I was interviewing her on stage at the pro introduction, she quickly called for an interpreter to help because her English isn't that good. As he was coming up on to the stage she joked that her Hebrew wasn't that good, either.

In the end, who cares. Reznikov lets her actions speak for her. I learned of her story through that translator and can't wait to see her take on a tough field that includes last year's runner up, Simona Krivankova (CZE), Parys Edwards, a Brit who lives in South Africa at present, the Ukraine's Oleksandra Hryshyna and former champions Dora Heller and Irena Mazin, who are also from Israel.

Schramm back to defend

It was a night full of revelations for me (always fun to get those when you're standing on stage!) - in my interview with men's defending champion Till Schramm I learned that he was thrilled to pull off the win here last year because he'd broken his leg the previous August.

Tonight I asked him if there's almost more pressure on him as he enters tomorrow's race because he's not coming back from anything and he's made it known that he feels like he's in really good shape. Turns out he found another way to get himself motivated for this year's race:

"I lost one of my sons in 2016 in an accident and, ever since then, I’ve been struggling mentally," Schramm said. "After Israman I went down – through the summer I raced, but I didn’t feel like training. At the end of the October I packed my pieces back together again and was totally focused on my training. So there’s pressure, but it’s a good pressure."

I wish I could take back my question. When you've dealt with stuff like Till Schramm has, you're happy to race and are fully aware that it really is "just" a race. There's a heck of a lot more going on in life that's important, too.

Schramm couldn't have been more gracious tonight, either. When Israel's Dan Alterman (the 2017 Israman champ) said that Schramm has provided him motivation all year, the German grabbed the mic to say that Alterman had just made his day. "For a guy who's got to the Olympics, something I never did, to say that I've motivated him, that's really special," Schramm said.

Add last year's runner-up, David Jilek to the mix and you have a potential barn burner for tomorrow's race. And there's a ton of other pros on hand, too - Ohad Sinai (ISR), Teem Kyllonen (FIN), Peter Seidel (GER), Marco Corti (ITA), Erik-Simon Strijk (NED), Christian Altstadt (GER), Roy Feldman (ISR), Omri Gazit (ISR) and John Hirsch (USA).

Competitive 113

The half-distance race promises to be every bit (if not more) exciting, with the return of Belgium's Diego Van Looy, last year's champion. Diederik Scheltinga (NED) has finished fourth, third, second and second at this race over the last four years - think he's motivated to go for the win tomorrow? 2015 champ Massimo Cigana is here, too, along with Olympian Gabor Faldum (HUN), Jeremy Morel (FRA), Sven Strijk (NED) and Arnaud Guilloux. The Israeli contingent includes Noam Ronen, Edan Apsimon, Asaf Porat, Vitali Leikin, Amier Bachar, Tom Marmarelli and Amit Sheked.

The women's field includes just three pro women, with Italy's Martina Dogana the likely favorite. The 2015 champ will take on Israel's Hadas Mazar and Inbar Zahavi Meyer.