Stefan Widmer needs to work on his stroke.
The 28-year-old mystery competitor to many of the spectators faded in the pool during Sunday's 26th annual Prince George Iceman which allowed 2012 men's overall winner Mike Smith to surpass him to capture the title again. Widmer wound up second to Smith in the men's open category and placed fourth for men overall.
"I don't know how to swim very well," said Widmer. "After not having swum for 20 years it takes a little more than a couple times a week for a few months in the pool to do well. I got into the pool and pretty much had to flip it onto the backstroke because I couldn't maintain my breathing with the front crawl. It's pretty embarrassing but at least I know what I need to work on next year."
Widmer edged out Smith in both the five and 10 kilometre runs, but Smith had a slight advantage in the ski, skate and swim disciplines. Smith finished in one hour, 52 minutes and 20 seconds (1:52.20) while Widmer was done in 1:53.08.
"I felt most comfortable on the run," said Widmer. "I'm not used to doing any of these sports."
Widmer, a first-year medical student, said he heard about the Iceman from his sister so started training last fall so he'd be ready in January when he moved to Prince George for school.
"It was always on the radar," said Widmer, adding his background is in cross-country mountain biking. "I decided [the Iceman] would be a good motivation to get out and ski, swim and skate."
Since he's studying medicine, Widmer and Smith, a well-known doctor in Prince George, had crossed paths prior to battling it out on the Iceman course from the Otway Nordic Ski Centre to the Aquatic Centre, along Foothills Blvd., and through the Pinewood subdivision, with a few glides around the Ice Oval in between.
"He definitely had a target on his back," said Widmer about the two-time champion. "I suppose most people shadow him throughout the race."
For Smith, winning the men's overall Iceman championship in consecutive years was a bit surprising, especially since it took him nine tries to finish in front of the field the first time.
"I was lucky on my 10th and lucky on my 11th," said Smith. "I didn't expect to do nearly this well just given the time spent training and with work, everything has been a little bit hectic in the last month. I guess there's some sort of carryover from previous experience."
Smith held a slight lead over Widmer as they made the transition from the skate to the five km run, having completed his 12 laps in 0:13.04 which was one minute and 11 seconds ahead of Widmer. Smith overtook the medical student during the skate after entering the ice oval almost three minutes behind.
"It wasn't neck and neck for very long he pulled away pretty quickly and got a pretty good lead coming to the pool," said Smith. "I've been working on my swim, but it's a work in progress. I was lucky to catch him in the pool and pass him by."
The other two swimmers to overtake Widmer in the pool were masters competitors, Peter Krause (1:52.53) and Michael Buchanan (1:53.02). Ian Picketts, a six-time Iceman racer, was third in the men's open and fifth overall (1:57.10).
"I trained less," laughed Picketts about his best-ever Iceman finish.
About two hours after the 2013 Iceman concluded Smith said it was about 50/50 whether he'd go for the three-peat next year but added his competitive spirit usually leads him to test his endurance.
"I'm a repeat offender," said the 36-year-old.
Widmer is already looking forward to the challenge of taking down the two-time winner.
"Oh it's on," he smiled. "Definitely."