If you could only put one XTERRA show from the 21st century into a time capsule to represent the sport and its people, the 2003 broadcast of the World Championship would be a worthy submission. It had everything – smack talk, carnage, drama, glory, inspiring athletes, and a really good look at a relentless course.
It was the year Eneko Llanos and Melanie McQuaid each won their first of three XTERRA World Championship crowns. It was the start of a very-well chronicled rivalry between McQuaid and Jamie Whitmore. It showed that the greatest racer in the sport is not immune from mechanicals and crashes, and it proved that overcoming all odds is one of our favorite story lines.
One of the athlete profiles was on the amazing Hans Dieben, at “64-years-young”, who suffered so much on the run he said “I saw Elvis, I saw Jesus, I saw Madame Pele … and all three of them, they didn’t like me.”
The other athlete profile was on Blair Barklow, who after a ski crash two years earlier was pronounced clinically dead and lay in a coma for three months. “It’s not just a race, it’s a celebration of life,” he explained.
We also heard a little more from “the Caveman,” who said back then that XTERRA was made for him, and watch him masterfully climb up Heartbreak Hill while Peter Reid and Eneko Llanos struggle behind.
“I had five flats and crashed once, that’s my story,” laughed Stoltz after the race. “I’ve had so much good luck for so long in XTERRA. The first year I came I used old bikes with bad tires and everything always worked out for me, I always had good luck and today, it caught up to me.” He still finished, crossing the line in 17th place.
Steve Larsen had the fastest bike split, and although he came off the bike in first, he headed out into the run in second behind Llanos, then gave Nico Lebrun a pat on the back when the Frenchman passed him to move into third. Effects of the flu kept Larsen from finishing Ironman the week before, and upon arriving in Maui he was stung by a bee in his left hand. The cartoonish looking inflammation in his hand never fully went away, nor did the lingering effects of his sickness. Despite that he moved from 32nd out of the water to 5th overall.
In a really cool display of sportsmanship Peter Reid – who won Ironman the week before (for the third time) tosses Stoltz a can of air midway through the bike.
For the second straight year the top American was Justin Thomas from Virginia, who finished third. It capped a breakout season where he had five podium finishes and won the XTERRA Canada Championship. Jason Chalker of Australia also capped a great season that included a win at XTERRA Saipan, finishing fourth overall, and Josiah Middaugh finished 6th in his first Maui race as a pro. The whole top 10 was a “who’s-who” of multisport with Reid in 7th, Jimmy Riccitello in 8th, Cam Widoff in 9th, and Michael Tobin in 10th.
For the women, McQuaid put an exclamation point on what had been an impressive few years of racing XTERRA.
“It was a magic day for me,” she said after the race. “I didn’t crash on the bike, which helps, and then I got out on the run and it was about eight billion degrees and I was just thinking holy crap am I hot and I just put my head down and I didn’t think about it. I was just counting to 10…10 steps, 10 steps, 10 steps, and I don’t remember finishing…so I was pretty happy to find out that I won.”
Whitmore finished second, two minutes back, but her day in the Maui sun would come soon. The defending champ Candy Angle placed third, with Aussie Raeleigh Rogers in fourth and Jenny Tobin in 5th.
The sport was also showing more and more signs of its growing international base. That year there were World Tour races in Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Saipan, and the United States.
Fastest swim: Jan Sibbersen (18:25), Candy Angle (20:51)
Fastest bike: Steve Larsen (1:27:47), Melanie McQuaid (1:42:10)
Fastest run: Chris Legh (36:32), Heather Fuhr (42:55)