BENTON HARBOR — Participants of this year’s Maytag Ironman 70.3 Steelhead Triathlon couldn’t have asked for better weather for the annual running of the event.

Sunday marked the 17th year of the Steelhead Triathlon at Jean Klock Park, and athletes enjoyed pleasant weather conditions for the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run.

“It was a perfect day for a triathlon,” said race director Mike Ryan. “If you’re going to write up a day, this would be the day.”

Ryan estimated that over 2,000 athletes participated in this year’s race, up from around 1,900 last year. 

The race, usually held in August, was moved up into late June this year because of the addition of a new Ironman event in Traverse City on August 25.

“We had more (participants) than last year,” said Ryan. “People thought the change in date would hurt, but I think it really helped. Now it’s more free being around the Fourth of July, when a lot of people take the time off anyways, so I think that really helped.”

Andrew Starykowicz, 37, of Chicago, finished first amongst professional athletes with a time of 3:47:10. He outlasted Australia’s Joe Gambles (3:49:09) and Canada’s Taylor Reid (3:49:28).

Starykowicz won the Steelhead two years ago. He finished runner-up in last year’s race, but reclaimed the title this year.

“We had spectacular weather,” Starykowicz said following the race. “You couldn’t ask for better weather. The water was smooth for Lake Michigan. That’s not what I like, I like a hilly swim.”

Starykowicz led wire-to-wire, coming out of the water first after the swim. He expanded his lead on the bike, coming out of the bike transition with an eight-minute lead.

Gambles and Reid ran stride-for-stride for much of the half-marathon before Gambles opened up a lead on Reid at the 10th mile. Gambles continued to close the gap significantly, but Starykowicz was able to hold on for the win.

“It was a great day start to finish,” Starykowicz said. “I knew I had good fitness coming in, and I’m just so thankful for this. I’ve got a newborn baby at home, so I haven’t been getting much sleep. I’ve been battling with training, and I just fought hard all day just like I do in my training. It worked out.”

Jackie Hering won the women’s race in 4:08:21, holding off a late push by Meredith Kessler (4:16:33) to claim the women’s title.

Oleg Kostyuk, of Berrien Springs, was the top local finisher. He placed 11th in the Male 35-39 age group, crossing in 4:33:38 in his first-ever Ironman event. That was also good for a top-100 overall finish (79th).

“It’s amazing, because I didn’t do a very good job on the swim,” Kostyuk said. “I’m not a very good swimmer. I pushed myself on the bike and then I absolutely pushed myself on the run. I think I even still have some gas left.

“It’s incredible, the fact that we even have this amazing venue so close to us. I think we should definitely take advantage of this.”

Savannah Bares, of St. Joseph, was the top local female finisher. She crossed in 5:17:21, a time good enough for eighth place in the Female 25-29 division and 81st overall.

Bares was followed by Stevensville’s Erin Lafrenz, also a top-10 age group finisher. Lafrenz’s 5:37:03 finish time was good for eighth in the Female 18-24 group and 128th overall. 

Logan Borah, of St. Joseph, also competed. At age 18, Borah was the youngest athlete in the field. He finished the race in 5:40:42, enough to place 12th in the Male 18-24 age group.

Other local finishers included St. Joseph’s Troy Smits (4:54:36), Gianluca Bacchiocchi (5:00:05), Aaron Sawyer (5:04:23), James Bradshaw (5:07:10), Jeffery Parmerlee (5:24:16), Steve Tillman (5:32:09) and David Kelleher (5:36:45). 

Curtis Harris of Niles ran 5:16:27, followed by Buchanan’s Scott Berzai, who finished in 5:32:30. Stevensville’s Charles Potts (5:30:37) and Jesse Resseguie (5:32:10) also competed, with Coloma’s Chad Baird (5:31:15) and Eau Claire’s Pat Hamler (5:42:26) also finishing.

Ryan noted the hard work of the 1,000-plus volunteers that gave their weekend to help the triathlon run successfully.

“We have (volunteers) come in Thursday, Friday, Saturday,” Ryan said. “We have eight stations that we have a lot of folks at. They really make the race, I’ll tell you what.

“Those folks come out. They’re not being paid, but they come out and they love it. They love the camaraderie, they like the event. I can’t say enough about it.”