Saturday, June 12, 2010

New England Triathlon Legend: Marc Surprenant

I recently read a report that the New England triathlete great, Marc Surprenant recently died. If you were around during the early days of triathlons in New England then you would recognize the name Marc Surprenant. He was the "Beast from the East" and probably the most successful New England triathlete on the national scene during the 1980's (Karen Smyers was a top competitor at the time and probably the best "all time"triathlete from New England but she stormed onto the national and world scene a bit later than Marc).

As soon as Julie Moss crawled across the Ironman finish lineback in 1982, athletes wanted to do triathlons and New England was more than happy to oblige. In 1983, the Bud Light Triathlon Series (hailed as the first city-to city swim-bike-run championship series for triathletes) came to my hometown of Falmouth on Cape Cod. I was ready to compete along with 900 other mostly beginner triathletes in the 11 city and one championship race series. I had limited training as a swimmer and cyclist, but with one sprint triathlon under my belt, I was already a veteran.  Julie Moss herself showed up to welcome the event (but not participate) and the local favorite was a swimmer-triathlete named Marc Surprenant. Marc didn't disappoint. Besides slipping during the run he won the overall title with the words "Mizuno" written on his chest. Back then the distances of the BLTS events were a 2k swim (1.2 miles), followed by a 40k bike (25 miles), and ending with a 15k  (9.4 miles) run. This race was held at Old Silver Beach and the morning of the race saw large waves crashing into the shore. Jokes after the race alluded to the fact that the race promotors had found a way to add hills to the swim. Unfortunately the race promotors did not listen to local officials who asked them to postpone the start until the waves died down. They refused and Falmouth officials refused to allow triathlons in town for many years afterwards. The start had over 900 competitors all starting at once (I think at the time this race was one of the largest mass swim starts ever). I remember sloshing around in the rough waters trying to swim with my head up and to keep from being run over by the many other swimmers. It was not fun until we headed back to the beach riding the waves! Here is a history of Cape Cod triathlons taken from the race program that tells a bit of the history of triathlons on Cape Cod prior to this event.

Here is a list of the top finishers in this event.

Here is an interview with Marc after the race from an old newsletter.

Marc Surprenant was now a name on the triathlon circuit and he did not disappoint. He had a style that included wearing white Vaurnet sunglasses and was seen modeling the newest and most colorful tri-suits in the Triathlon magazines. He was also a friendly and approachable competitor. He turned up at other major New England triathlons that brought in national caliber competitors (that would be the same as saying world class competitors) at events like future Bud Light Triathlon Series races, the Bay State Triathlon in Medford, and the Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon (a full Ironman distance race) that started and finished in his home town of Centerville. Marc won the second edition of the race in 1984 (winning time of 9:04:10) and finished second to Scott Tinley in 1985 (8:21:34 to 8:51:37) and then again to Scott Molina in 1986 (8:48:03 to 9:02:00).

Here is a short video of the 1984 Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon. It shows the swim. Marc finishing the swim, and then Marc finishing the run for the win. The origianl video did not really highlight the winners and the competition in this event, but I will upload the whole video at a later date.

 Here are some images from the 1985 event (I participated in the first 5 CCET races-5 of the greatest days of my life!).

Scott Tinley winning in a then world record for the Ironman distance.

Marc in his trademark sunglasses.

Who can forget the Puntous twins from Canada (early triathlon standouts)? Here Patricia and Sylvianne tie for a first place finish in 9:30:32 (5th and 6th place overall).

Me finishing in 20th place (10:20:13).

Sarah came to many of my triathlons and was a stellar supporter at the CCET (arriving with me to the start predawn and then waiting out the race for 10 hours until I finished. I thought she was having fun, but I guess not. Her sister and brother only showed up later in the day. They are a bit happier!

I always assumed she liked these events as she was happy to see me. (side note: I never get any grief over my athletic endevours since we have been married. I think she is happy no matter what I do as long as she doesn't have sit  through another Ironman triathlon event!)

Another race I remember seeing Marc competing at was the 1985 Bud Light Triathlon series event held in Boston. He outsprinted Jimmy Riccitello for a 3 second win under rainy and slippery conditions. I crashed my bike twice in this event, but still managed to finish top ten in my age group for a spot at the National Championship race in Hilton Head (one of my goals that season). In the days before the internet, I did not find out that I had qualified until after the championship race. It was a very strange race. Besides crashing twice, I nearly got into a fistfight on the run. Some guy kept cutting me off as I kept trying to pass him. He was deliberately impeding my progress and I had to nearly shove him over to get by him (we did talk it over after the race and shook hands).

Here is a summary of the race from the results booklet.

Here is me wearing the Oakley sunglasses that were "cool" at the time. I am not sure if this is pre or post fight! Why was I wearing sunglasses on a rainy day?

Competing in triathlons during  the 1980's still creates vivid and fond memories for me. The training, competing,  and characters I met along the way still resonate deeply with me as they were such glorious times. I guess I find it hard to fathom that such a vibrant and athletic person such as Marc Suprenant is no longer with us. He was only 49 years old when he died. Here is an article on his passing and a listing of memories from some of his fellow competitors and friends.  There are plenty of great stories about Marc listed in the memories and some that aren't. Didn't he fall asleep during the run of the Hawaii Ironman race one year when he was considered a favorite and then  wake up later to finish the race? I only knew Marc as an aquaintance at races, but followed his career in triathlons. It is sad when a person who epitimized both health and fun living is no longer living.


Kurtis & mom said...

came upon your post, was trying to remember the length of the series, I did this in 1983 in Livermore, Del Valle Reservoir, and remembered that it was tough, the 15K run at the end had some hills that no one ran. Thanks for the memories

Keri Surprenant said...

It's been almost 2 years since my brother Marc died and there is not a day that goes by that I don't think about him and miss him. Thank you for your post it's comforting to know that he was an admired and respected person and athlete.

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks for responding, Keri. I was inspired to finish putting up a page on the 1984 CCET: I remembered your dad's triathlon store, but had forgot he was a codirector of this race. Marc was an inpiring competitor.