ST. GEORGE — Ben Hoffman became the first American to win the Ironman St. George Saturday on a warm, blustery day in southern Utah.
Hoffman, from Tucson, Ariz., captured his second career Ironman race, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full 26.2-mile marathon. The competitors started early in the morning in Hurricane's Sand Hollow Reservoir, pedaled a bike through Washington and other neighboring towns, then finished the marathon in downtown St. George.
"I came here looking to have a special year," Hoffman said. "Everyone around me believed in me so much that I started to believe in myself."
Hoffman caught eventual second-place finisher Maik Twelsiek at mile 90 of the bike race. The pair rode together for a dozen miles before Hoffman made his move. By the time Hoffman reached the crossover from biker to runner, he had a two-minute lead.
He increased that lead steadily during the run, eventually winning by 19 minutes. Hoffman's time was 9:07:04.
It was a warm, windy day in southern Utah, especially during the bike ride, which wound from the reservoir, through Purgatory Flats and Washington before heading through St. George and then north and west of town.
"This is the hardest race I've ever done," Hoffman said. "This is hands-down the hardest thing I've ever done."
Twelsiek, a German who also placed second in last year's IMSG, tore off his No. 1 racing bib as he crossed the finish line, handing it to the victorious Hoffman.
Axel Zeebroek of Austria was third and another Arizonan, Thomas Gerlach, was fourth.
For the women, Meredith Kessler blew away the field, finishing more than 30 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Jessie Donavan. Kessler, from San Francisco, finished with a time of 10:12:59.
"Let me tell you, that was a day out there," Kessler said. "The swim — I thought I was going to end up on an episode of 'Lost.' Everyone had to deal with the tough conditions out there. The theme of day was to stay under control because it's easy to blow up on this course."
Chuck Sloan, from Tulsa, Okla., was the top non-professional to finish the race. The 35-year-old was about an hour behind the top professionals.
Tom Goth, a 27-year- old from Salt Lake City, and Spencer Woolston, from Highland, were the top two Utah finishers. Goth came in about 30 seconds ahead of Wilson at just over 10 hours. B.J. Christenson, a sales manager from Salt Lake City, finished just behind Goth and Woolston. Christenson was a crowd favorite as the race's tallest competitor at 6-foot-7.
More than 2,800 racers competed in the 2012 IMSG, with 281 one of those being Utahns. Nearly 600 of the racers were first-timers, with 120 of those being Utah residents.
The race will change formats next year and will be certified as an Ironman 70.3. All three legs will be cut in half with the swim going to 1.2 miles, the bike race to 56 miles and the run becoming a half-marathon at 13.1 miles.
Race officials said the main reason for the switch is the intensity of the conditions and the hilly course in southern Utah. The temperature was in the low-80s at the finish line Saturday afternoon.