A large orange sphere slowly rose over the eastern horizon. It looked more like an alien planet in a science fiction movie than the sun.
That was the scene many of the athletes and spectators were treated to prior to the start of the 17th annual Mighty North Fork Sprint Triathlon early Sunday morning.
It was quite a sight to behold.
Of course, once the race started at 6:50 a.m. at Cedar Beach in Southold, the participants had other things on their minds, like finishing in the fastest time possible.
In that regard, Billy Holl was the most successful of them all. The 29-year-old Bayport man, in only his second year in the sport, stayed close enough to the leaders during the first two phases of the triathlon — the 500-meter swim and the eight-mile bike ride — to win it with his legs. Running is Holl’s strength, and he completed the three-and-a-half-mile run in 20 minutes 24 seconds to cross the finish line in 48:01, tops among the 224 male competitors. He had the second-fastest running time, the second-fastest bike time (17:41) and the sixth-fastest swim time (7:56).
Holl won by a comfortable margin. The next finisher, Adrian Mackay of New York City, 21 years Holl’s senior, was 59 seconds behind him. For the second straight year, Mackay was second, and for the second straight year, Mike Merlo of Cutchogue was third, in 50:44. He was followed by last year’s winner, Tim Steiskal of Brookhaven (52:49), and Doug Milano of Aquebogue (52:50).
Cutchogue was well represented among the top 10. In addition to Holl’s fine showing, Ken Robbins of Cutchogue was eighth in 53:51 and Shawn Fitzgerald of Cutchogue was 10th in 54:25.
Jaclyn Fahey, 33, of Wantagh, competing in the North Fork event for the first time, made it a memorable experience. She set herself up for victory among the 182 female triathletes with a swim of 8:44. She won in 55:44. The next female finisher was Julia Bechtolsheimer, an Englishwoman who lives in New York City. Her time was 57:00. Patti Thorp of Cutchogue came in third in 57:44, Christine Grippo of Locust Valley was fourth in 58:47 and Vicki Edwards of Mattituck was fifth in 59:02. Also cracking the top 10 among the women were Melanie Pfennig of Cutchogue (ninth in 1:03.06) and Kristen Magliola of Shoreham (10th in 1:03.50).
Although a bright, sunny sky greeted the competitors, a cloud of sadness hung over the event. It was the first North Fork triathlon to be competed since the death earlier this year of its creator, Steve Tarpinian. Tarpinian, who was an excellent swimmer, was also a coach and a strong proponent for the sport of triathlon. After a trumpeter played the national anthem, a moment of silence was observed in Tarpinian’s memory.
An award was named in his honor, the Steve Tarpinian Swim Award, which went to the athlete with the fastest swim time. That was Mackay, who was the first one out of the water in 7:00.