Wednesday, June 10, 2009


 The men's field for this Saturday's Liberty Half will not be as deep as its 2008 counterpart but will feature a couple of guys who have excelled on this undulating course. 

Thunder Bay's Jon Balabuck finished 2nd here in 2007 and his 4:14:09 is the 2nd fastest time in the brief history of this race. 70.3 is his favorite distance as his consistent excellence at the prestigious Muskoka long course event, at which he has been the amateur champ on several occasions, plus his 2006 victory at the Chisago Lake Half, his runner-up effort at Square Lake in '04 and his 4th at Pigman last year attest. Jon is capable of lowering Jeremy Sartain's CR (4:11:17), which is likely what he'll have to do in order to stay in front of the other pre-race fave, Dan Arlandson.

A wrong turn in '08 kept Arlandson, who won the Performance of the Year MMA last year for his dominating victory at Full Vineman, off the top step of Liberty's podium. Remarkably, he still placed third in spite of a significantly extended--61 miles-- bike segment. 

Balabuck has history; Arlandson has hunger. Both have talent. This promises to be a Homeric duel. 

But wait! What about Matthew Payne? He's undefeated in four starts this season. Can he make it five-in-a-row? Can he beat Dan and Jon?

Well, Payne has four short course wins this year, and while he demonstrated promise at 70.3 last season--7th at Liberty, 9th at Pigman--he would have to be at least 20 minutes faster this year if he wants to be within striking distance of long course veterans Arlandson and Balabuck. 

Payne will go much faster this Saturday than he did last year, but it probably will not be quite enough, especially if Balabuck pops a sub 1:20 run. Matt's a monster in the saddle, but this race will most likely be determined in the pedestrian phase.

Two-time Liberty winner and CR-holder, Marlo McGaver is returning and should three-peat. Former Rookie of the Year and Most Improved nominee Thea Fleming should keep Marlo honest, but McGaver, MTN's May Athlete of the Month, should not need a course record (4:41:43 in '06) effort to finish on top. 

Scott Penticoff's record 1:59:51 at last season's Liberty Olympic was a Performance of the Year-worthy effort. But 2009 had a plethora of POY candidates and Scott's narrowly missed the final list of nominees. A similar effort on Saturday will not garner POY attention, though. Heck, it will take a faster time than 1:59 to win the race. 


Because this year's field is stacked, with several truly viable contenders.

Who are they?

Well, Scott will be back and he's already posted a win and CR this year (Winter Be Gone Du). And Brett Lovaas, who won here in 2007 and was last year's runner-up. And the ever-reliable Rhett Bonner. And Comeback Kid Rob Gilles, who is a two-time US Athlete of the Year Honorable Mention (1998 & 2001) and winner of the Gear West Duathlon last month. And finally, John Shelp, for whom a big performance at Liberty would jump-start his season, which has yet to, in track parlance, get out of the blocks. John's hungry and more than capable of popping a fast one.

The clear favorite in the women's Olympic race is Alaskan Lori Deschamps. A two-time top 10 overall finisher at USAT Nationals, Deschamps is one of America's premier short course racers. 

Can she challenge Cathy Yndestad's amazing 2:08:38 CR? 

Don't bet on it. But don't be surprised if she comes close. Remember, Cathy finished 2nd in the USAT AOY voting last year, and her extraordinary effort at Liberty was one of the reason's why.