Triple Threat

Spring is quickly melting into summer in the Valley, and armchair sports fans are settling in, sticking their sweaty thighs to leather La-Z-Boys for the NBA and NHL playoffs and the return of the D-Backs. In contrast, the climb to hellish temperatures bodes ill for participatory sports enthusiasts, who look forward to sweat and sunburn. Such physically ambitious souls should be heartened by this weekend's inaugural Tempe International Triathlon, to be held at Tempe Town Lake on Sunday, May 5.

The international-distance triathlon consists of a 1,500-meter swim in Tempe Town Lake, a 40-kilometer bike race and a 10-kilometer run. To some, the first leg sounds appalling -- a dip in the brown muck that Tempe passes off as a lake? Organizer Jonathan Grinder, of Tucson Racing Inc., is quick to assure that the much-maligned mud puddle presents absolutely no health hazards to swimmers.

"The City of Tempe is one of the most stringent organizations I've dealt with," Grinder says. "If the water doesn't comply, the event doesn't happen." Grinder also explains that Tempe Town Lake has a clay bottom, which accounts for the brown pall over it.

The race course, which covers Rio Salado, Priest, Washington and Curry, is described by Grinder as a "fast course, challenging but user-friendly." There are minor hills to bike and, despite the early morning start, the heat could be as great a factor as the incline. Winners will finish the race in just under two hours, spending approximately 20 minutes swimming, an hour biking and 35 minutes running.

The organizers expect the triathlon's urban setting will attract national and international athletes in future years, and they hope the event evolves into "one of the Valley's must-do events." With sufficient sponsorship, the Tempe International Triathlon could host the 2004 Olympic trials, which should excite even metabolically challenged sports fans.

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Brendan Joel Kelley