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Scenery steals the show at annual Hagg Lake Triathlon

Forest Grove resident Jeff Smith is victorious in the Olympic distance triathlon on Saturday

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Josh Bjornstad, 37, of Portland, rides his bike during the annual Hagg Lake Triathlon, which was held at the park on Saturday. Bjornstad finished second in the Olympic duathlon.

The annual Hagg Lake Triathlon and Duathlon drew upwards of 600 participants and lots of spectators Saturday.

And the weather — mid-60s with cloud cover — could not have been better for the competitors.

For most, scorching temperatures would have negatively impacted their race. But it wouldn’t have mattered much to 33-year-old Jeff Smith, who won the Olympic Tri race for the second time in three years.

Smith, who also won the swimming (.93 miles)/cycling (24.8 miles)/running (6.2 miles) event in 2013, said he welcomes the heat.

“It’s not optimal, but I usually do OK,” he said.

Still, he admitted that “you can’t ask for any better” than the weather that graced the athletes on Saturday, and Smith won in 2 hours, 5 minutes, 6 seconds, one minute slower than his 2013 time.

Matt Berg, 42, of Troutdale, finished second in 2:07:36, and Craig Dean, 41, of Portland, was third at 2:09:23.

Smith’s last race was three weeks ago in the Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Ironman (swimming, cycling and running at longer distances), in temperatures as high as 108 degrees. So when he saw the second-place runner not too far behind him on Saturday’s last leg, he stepped on the gas.

“Coming through here, there were so many people cheering, and the lead biker yelling out my name gave me more energy,” he said.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Andrew Carter, 32, of Portland, exits the water after the swimming leg of Saturday's Hagg Lake Triathlon.

Smith, a native of Sandpoint, Idaho who lives in Forest Grove, didn’t win without some pre-race drama. Upon arriving at Hagg Lake in the morning, he pulled what he thought was his wetsuit out of his bag — only to find out it belonged to his wife, Miranda.

“I was like, ‘Honey, this is your wetsuit,’” he said. “Then I was like, ‘Will it fit?’ I figured it would fit on me, but only cover up to my elbows.”

Miranda’s final pre-race message consisted of motivation.

“I just told him to kick ass,” she said.

According to Jeff, the swim was the hardest part of the day. He borrowed a friend’s wetsuit, which was made of thicker material than his, and that caused him to overheat a bit.

And once he was out of the water, he took the first transition — a steep climb to his bike — lightly, per his race strategy.

“It’s always tough running up the hill, like a quarter-mile from the water, so I tried to ease up on the transition,” he added.

Along with the hometown feel, the course fuels Smith to keep competing in this triathlon.

“I always really enjoyed this race,” he said. “When I first started triathlons, I would always drive here from Sandpoint and do this event. It’s so hard, so it creates a good base of fitness. It seems to bring a really good base of competitors, and the course I just love. I love all the hills.”

Smith is in a niche group of professional XTERRA athletes who train for year-round off-road triathlons. For others, however, the Hagg Lake race is more about personal gain and camaraderie.

Take 74-year-old Beaverton resident Cliff Hunter, a former three-time Ironman competitor who came to watch his tennis pal, Marc Milobinski, among others.

Milobinski, 43, a former swimmer at the University of Michigan who lives in Scappoose, raced on Saturday. He rode a dominant swimming leg to finish the Sprint Triathlon in 1:17:41, first among men ages 40-45 and eighth overall.

“Most of the people here don’t like to swim,” Milobinski said. “I’ve done enough of these that I’m not nervous. It’s just for myself.”

Hunter said it “hurts that I’m not doing it anymore” but that he gets a lot of joy heckling ... er ... cheering on his friends.

“(Marc) makes it look so easy. He’s a hell of an athlete,” Hunter said.

As Milobinski completed the final transition from the bike to the 10K run, he ran right by Hunter before venturing onto the main road.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Evan Pardi, 21, of Yachats, rides his bike out of the transition area during the 33rd annual Hagg Lake Triathlon on Saturday.

“You’re looking tired!” Hunter jokingly barked, before following up with “Go do it.”

Milobinski gave him two thumbs up.

In the end, many tired competitors reached the finish line, highlighted by one woman cart-wheeling upon completion.

Alycia Hill, 26, of Tacoma, Wash., placed first among women in the Olympic Tri in 2:17:05. Angie Smith, 42, from Salem, was second in 2:27:24, and 40-year-old Sabrina Oei of Portland took third in 2:27:50.

Top forest grove finishers

Name Event Place

Jeff Smith Olympic Tri 1st

Lindley Morton Olympic Tri 53rd

Marco Ramirez Sprint Tri 2nd

Gabrielle Jensen Sprint Tri 59th

Christopher Toole Sprint Tri 71st

Sarah Amina Olympic Duo 22nd