WAIKOLOA — Brock Imonen had a simple yet effective game plan to defend his title at the Cinco de Mayo Splash: get to the front and never look back — well, at least until the final few strides up the beach.
Imonen followed the plan to a T on Saturday in Waikoloa, clocking a time of 21 minutes and 55 seconds and going just about wire-to-wire for his second consecutive win at the 1-mile ocean swim.
“The course felt long, but it was a good race,” said Imonen. “I knew I had to be at the front if I was going to win the race. I couldn’t sit back there and draft. It worked well.”
He didn’t glance behind him until he reached the beach at Anaehoomalu Bay, getting just a glimpse at Duke Becker, the second-place finisher, who was emerging from the water.
“I had to double check who was there,” said Imonen. “I knew probably Duke and Aiden (Ankrum) would be there but I didn’t know how close. I just wanted to know how hard I had to run up the beach.”
It was a bit more of a sprint than female champion Noe Vargas needed; she strolled up the beach for her first win at the event with a time of 23:45. And unlike Imonen, her game plan for the race basically went out the window from the start.
“I was on the wrong side of the buoy going out and coming in,” said Vargas, a Hawaii Prep grad who swam collegiality at Loyola Marymount University. “I was zig-zagging but I felt good.”
Alyssa Foo finished second among the women with a time 24:00. Brenda Avery was third, completing the swim in 24:06.
On the men’s podium, Becker was just two seconds behind Imonen at 21:57, and Ankrum rounded out the top three with his time of 22:00.
Nearly 250 participants took on the race, which is the first leg of the Triple Crown of open water swimming on the Big Island. The series also includes the 1-mile Hapuna Rough Water Swim on June 8, and wraps up with the 1.2-mile King’s Swim.
After the conclusion of the King’s Swim, awards will be handed out to the top male and female swimmers with the lowest cumulative time between all three events.
The defending Triple Crown champions are Sean Reilly and Kuuleionalani Patterson, who both finished toward the front of the pack on Saturday. Reilly (22:26) was sixth overall and Patterson stopped the clock at 24:57.
Vargas swims with a small masters group at the Mauna Lani Sports & Fitness Club, which keeps her in shape to keep up with the young guns who routinely crowd the lead pack at the trio of races. She finished second last year in the Triple Crown chase, notching fourth-place results in all three events.
Getting a win under her belt early is a nice head start on the rest of the field.
“Everything is so fun with these race and I look forward to them,” said Vargas. “When you are a kid you can swim every single weekend in a meet. But as an adult, these are really the only opportunities to get out to race and have some fun.”
Imonen, who’s a junior at Hawaii Prep, doesn’t have plans to compete for the Triple Crown this year, but it could be in his future.
“It’s something I want to do,” Imonen said. “Maybe next year.”