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Birdseye: Kona.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.


Tom Demerly Crossing Bridge in rocky terrain.
Sunday, October 19, 2008.
07:58 hrs. Local, Queen Kaahumanu Highway, Big Island, Hawaii.


The gathering heat drenches blackened lava rock as the sun begins its ruthless rotation over the barren volcano-scape.

It is just after sunrise on the big island of Hawaii.

Bisecting the angry volcanic terrain is an equally inhospitable ribbon of black asphalt. The Queen Kaahumanu Highway, State Highway 19.

It was not intentional that this stretch of highway absorbs solar energy and bounces it back up to 48 inches above its abrasive, matte surface, superheating the air to well over 100 degrees. The designers did not engineer the road to be mind-numbing in its monotony. They did not intentionally position it to be in the angry broadside of 50 M.P.H. trade winds that last touched land in Japan. It just happened that way.

And because it happened that way it is the ultimate coliseum for the gladiatorial combat that is endurance sports. The 2008 Ironman World Championship.

In an attempt to find clean air on the turbulent thermals drifting up from the black rock a small robot bird adjusts altitude. It is guided from a remote location, and uses a series of electronic sensors and lenses to look for action on the highway below. There are thirteen more of the miniature robot birds flying through the morning Hawaiian sky. The little robot birds line up on either side of the highway, single file, hovering a hundred feet above the volcanic surface. They are waiting for action.

Thor Koenigsmann makes the left turn off Pay n' Save hill and continues out onto the Queen K. Highway. Konigsmann, the German triathlon sensation, has just set a new swim course record of 41:39 for the calm 2.4-mile swim at the 30th Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Koenigsmann is coming off an incredible season. He is the uncontested new "King" (in fact, the literal translation of his name means "King Man" in German) of Ironman distance races. He stormed to an incredible 7:35:04 finish at the 2008 Ironman Canada, shattering records in all three splits and destroying his competition on the way to a new Ironman record. Having already laid waste to the competition the big German's only companion is an official's motorbike trailing him through town. Once outside of town the motorcycle will drop away, leaving Thor Koenigsmann to the mechanical attention of the hovering robots.

This is Koenigsmann's first time in Hawaii. He is the hands down favorite. Today on the Queen K, the race is for second place. He has won other races in 2008: The long course world championships, several half Ironmans and that incredible record at Canada. Five years ago in 2003 he was unknown.

Koenigsmann pushes the shift button of his Shimano Electro-Ace 10 speed drivetrain and the drive band (which has long since replaced a standard mechanical chain) slides silently down to the 11 tooth cog. He maintains a moderate cadence in the 53/11 gear riding what is now a minor tailwind on the way to the turnaround point in Hawi. The sun glints off the magnesium/carbon composite skin of his Cervelo P6 monocoque, aerodynamic bike frame. The reflection from the metallic skin of his new Sugoi Heatex triathlon suit is brilliant. As the temperature rises, the fabric changes density, becoming more porous as it gets warmer and reflecting the heat of a blinding sun away from him.

Koenigsmann benefits from all the latest triathlon technology: New bike frame, ultra-lightweight shoes and pedals, high-tech fabric triathlon suit, electronically ventilated ultra-lightweight helmet. Even his photochromatic Oakley sunglasses adjust light transmission according to temperature and brightness.

But the most impressive technology is in the sky surrounding Konigsmann and the other 1,500 athletes at Ironman in 2008. For the first time in history spectators can follow the Ironman live, at home, in a completely interactive environment watching the race they want to see live over a high-speed media connection. They get real-time telemetry on the athletes' speed, position on the course, standings, and even physiological condition such as body temperature, heart rate, and blood chemistry. All live, all instantaneous, all at the controls of the viewer at home.

12:39 hrs. Local, Dearborn, Michigan. Triathlete's living room.

Jim Smith has been a triathlete for 6 years but has never made it to the big one. His recent promotion at work and two kids just don't leave time for the training. He's done Ironman (Canada) once, and he knows that was probably it. But he loves seeing it on high-speed media.

Today at Jim's house his buddies from the bike shop are over to watch Hawaii on the HS Media. There is a 60" flat panel monitor flanked by a pair of 42" inch monitors. Jim sits across the room on a couch with a program controller on his lap. On the 60" flat panel there is a breathtaking HD video image of race leader Thor Koenigsmann, resplendent in his Sugoi Heatex tri suit and Giro Ios (pronounced "eye-ohs, named for a frozen moon of Jupiter) helmet. On the 42" monitor to the right of the screen is Koenigmann's current speed, race position, lead over second place, heart rate, body temperature and last collected blood chemistry from the swim exit. On the left 42" flat panel is the leader board with the name of Koenigsmann on top, Sukato of Japan in second, the Belgian Vansteenberg in third and the American, Fernando, in fourth.

"Nobody can beat Koenigsmann", Jim Smith says as he marvels at the rippling muscles on the legs of the big German.

"I don't know" One of the bike shop guys chimes in. "He may have made the typical Hawaii mistake and gone out too fast. We'll know at the blood chem collection point at Hawi".

Sunday, October 19, 2008.
09:54 hrs. Local, Hawi, Ironman turnaround point, Big Island, Hawaii.

Despite the rising temperatures the wind has remained fairly calm at the 30th Ironman Triathlon World Championships. This means the gyro-stabilized images coming from the General Atomics RHQ-40C Birdseye are exceptional. It also means the miniature helicopter, only three feet tall with a rotor span of about nine feet, can hover alongside the race leader, Thor Koenigsmann, and focus its Westcam V video camera on the perspiration sheeting off his face. As clear as HDTV, the images of Koenigsmann are beamed home via satellite and High Speed Media. The Birdseye camera drone is quieter than the old camera motorcycles and can gather more camera angles. The miniature, remotely piloted robot helicopters have eliminated dangerous full size manned camera helicopters and enabled more camera aircraft on the course. They are nearly silent and emit no exhaust fumes. These are the same drones that helped the U.S. Navy SEALs and Army Delta catch Osama bin Ladin back in 2004 in the Straits of Malacca during his failed escape to Indonesia.

As Koenigsmann reaches the 180-degree turn at the old bike turnaround point in Hawi he slows momentarily to push his right middle finger into a small device that pierces his skin and collects a drop of blood. The blood is quickly analyzed by one of a bank of Accutrend Endurant 140.6 portable blood analysis units. The results of the blood analysis are quickly uploaded to a central computer on the High Speed Media Network where viewers at home can access the data.

Koenigsmann's lead over a chase group of three, Sukato, Vansteenberg and the American, Fernando has grown to over 14 minutes and building.

01:59 hrs. Local, Dearborn, Michigan. Triathlete's living room.

"I told you Koenigsmann couldn't maintain this pace. Look at his blood chemistry, his blood sugar is bottoming out and he has been eating the whole time. I think he is headed for a huge blowup like Mark Allen when he had that huge lead on Dave Scott, was that 1987?" One of the bike shop guys commented as he watched the telemetry monitor to the right of the video.

"Be sure to punch up Fernando's blood chemistry when he gets to Hawi" Jim Smith was not convinced Koenigsmann would fold.

"Hey, check out Koenigsmann's heart rate, its ten beats higher than it was an hour ago at the same speed and the wind hasn't picked up yet." The bike shop guys were certain Koenigsmann had gone out too fast. It could be cardiac drift, or it could be that Koenigsmann is headed for a big blow up.

GPS transponders on each of the competitors' bikes enable people at home watching the race on HS media to follow their friends in the event. The bike shop guys look up their customers and see what kind of races they are having today. Each one goes through the blood chem collection and the guys back in Dearborn can see who needs to eat more, who is getting dehydrated, who is low on sodium, etc.

Sunday, October 19, 2008.
11:48 hrs. Local, Hawi, Ironman bike course, Highway 19, Big Island, Hawaii.

The General Atomics RHQ-40C Birdseye camera drones pick up movement among the leaders. The darkhorse American, Enrico Fernando, has been moving steadily toward the lead. His blood chem at the turnaround seemed as if he weren't racing at all. His blood sugar, potassium and sodium levels and hydration are perfect. He is poised for a perfect run as he eats into Koenigsmann's lead.

16:50 hrs. Local, Dearborn, Michigan. Triathlete's living room.

"Fernando is coming on strong. I knew he would. Look at his heart rate at 26 mph, it is only 144 bpm. Wait until the marathon" one of the bike shop guys said. The American, Fernando, had started doing well in 2005 on the international circuit. No one tipped him as a favorite for Ironman Hawaii but the people at home knew he was in the best form of his life.

Sunday, October 19, 2008.
12:04 hrs. Local, Hawi, flight level one four zero over Ironman bike course on board HS Media Network CH-17M Viewmaster production aircraft, Big Island, Hawaii.

The HS Media broadcast producer sees the images from drone 9 and the telemetry on the big board as they orbit quietly above the bike course in the big four-engine production aircraft. The Boeing CH-17M Viewmaster is a civilian version of the military C-17 cargo plane. In addition to carrying the entire production suite and crew, it is a signal repeater/transmitter to the communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit that carries the HS Media signals to broadcast participants. With four jet engines and in flight refueling capability the HS Media Network's aircraft will remain aloft for the entire duration of Ironman until the midnight cut-off. The 18-person production crew monitors the images and telemetry from the drones while the producer, Tony Svenson, on board decides what images will be made available to the HS Media viewers all over the world.

Svenson notices the movement of Fernando 14,000 feet below and calls another drone back from the leaders to cover his progress. Sensing that Fernando may be making a tactically significant move in the race they put two camera drones on him. Svenson spins a track ball on his production console and pulls up Fernando's physio telemetry on the big screen in the Viewmaster. Fernando's heart rate is only 145 beats per minute. His current speed is 25.17 M.P.H. His position is 29 miles from the second transition area at the Kona Surf Hotel. Telemetry fed into the main race CPU indicates he will catch the lead pack by the time they all reach the transition area.

Then the race will really start.

17:09 hrs. Local, Dearborn, Michigan. Triathlete's living room.

Jim Smith and the guys from the bike shop watch in silence as a big image of Fernando fills their screen.

"He looks awesome, he is barely sweating. Look at his position, it's perfect. He's totally dialed."

The guys tap a few buttons on their view controls and pull up Fernando's physio telemetry. They look at his blood chemistry, heart rate, body temperature, current speed on the course, wind direction and speed. A graphic of the course shows the position of Fernando along with small icons that show the positions of Koenigsmann and the others near the front.

The guys in front of their flat-panel HS Media screens here in Dearborn see that Fernando is making up time on the leaders quickly. He is catching them. As they get weaker, he only gets stronger

Sunday, October 19, 2008.
12:17 hrs. Local, Hawi, Ironman bike course,
Highway 19 before turn off to Alii Drive, Big Island, Hawaii.

Enrico Fernando, the American underdog, has caught the lead group of cyclists as they enter the final 20 miles before the run transition in the 2008 Ironman Triathlon World Championship. On either side of the road two of the small General Atomics RHQ-40C Birdseye drone remotely piloted helicopters fly sideways at eye level next to him. The drone pilot, seated 7 miles away and 14,000 feet up in the Boeing CH-17M Viewmaster, uses his joystick like a Nintendo game controller to bring the drone in close to Fernando. Once Fernando enters the city the drones cannot operate at low level due to power lines, trees and other obstacles. But here, in the open spaces of the lava fields, the drones can use their 400X remote control zoom lenses and camera turrets to get any shot they want. They can even land to get static shots and then leap back into the air at the direction of the broadcast producer.

The video image captured by the drone pilots is exactly what the producer wants: A beautiful "below eye level" shot of Fernando bent over his aerobars streaking toward the final transition with another Birdseye drone and the ocean in the background. This is the stuff multi-media broadcasters win the new "Omni" Award for. The Omni is the biggest achievement in multi-media broadcast awards, and producer Tony Svenson knows it. He wants to earn it for this broadcast. Because it represents a mix of creativity and technological excellence previously unattainable in broadcasting, the Omni is much more significant than the old, decrepit Emmy award. Since the birth of HS Media and the death of television, no one cares about the Emmy.

Hurtling back into Kailua-Kona at over 26 M.P.H. Fernando goes to the front of the group of leaders. As he passes them, their draft proximity alarms begin a low buzz. The ultra-miniature devices use ultra sonic frequencies sent and transmitted from a transponder mounted to the bottom bracket of every bike in the Ironman. When two competitors get too close to one another, in violation of Ironman drafting rules, a low tone begins to sound. If they do not leave the draft zone quickly enough the tone becomes a high-pitched squeal until a piercing tone like a car alarm sounds 5 seconds before they have committed a penalty. Once they have committed a penalty the draft proximity alarm logs this in its memory. Back at the transition area, as the competitor crosses the timing mats, memory in the draft proximity alarm automatically adds three minutes to their chip time for one offense, another six minutes for a second offense and disqualifies them if there is a third violation. Draft marshals are obsolete now.

Fernando reaches the bottom of the grocery store hill across the street from the Keahou-Akai Condominiums on Alii Drive, pounds up the climb in his 54/17 and gets ready for the bike to run transition. He makes the right turn down the steep hill into the parking lot of the King Kamehameha, makes the quick left and crosses the timing matte. When he does a wealth of information is downloaded from his timing chip. Because Fernando is a Timex sponsored athlete, he uses the new Timex Clair (short for clairvoyant) cyclocomputer system. A Timex representative plugs a fire wire connection into the Timex Clair's output port and dumps the telemetry from Fernando's ride into a CPU that produces graphs and charts for broadcast on the HS Media. Viewers at home can punch it up from their view menu if they are interested.

Fernando enters the changing tent. A volunteer hands him his changing bag. He shoves his finger into another Accutrend Endurant 140.6 portable blood analysis unit and it draws a drop of blood that will reveal his condition as he enters the marathon.

18:02 hrs. Local, Dearborn, Michigan. Triathlete's living room.

Jim Smith and the guys from the bike shop have been waiting for the upload from the Timex Clair units on the athletes' bikes. A small Timex icon appears on the screen signaling the data is ready for viewing. One of the guys from the bike shop hits a button on the view controller keyboard and the bike telemetry comes up on a 42" monitor. Fernando averaged 324 watts of power output on the bike. His average heart rate was 154 bpm. His average cadence was 91 rpm. Several graphs appear that show the peaks and valleys of his efforts over the entire 112 miles of the bike course. The information is available from all of the athletes using the new Timex Clair cyclcomputer on line almost instantly.

Sunday, October 19, 2008.
12:27 hrs. Local, Bike to Run Transition Area, King Kamehameha Hotel,
Ironman Triathlon World Championship, Big Island, Hawaii.

Thor Koenigsmann seems unsteady when he climbs off his bike in the hotel parking lot. A Kokua Crew volunteer takes his bike as he heads for the changing tent. All the fancy computer internet data in the world cannot show the most obvious sign of Koenigsmann's impending problems as much as the video image does. Koenigsmann is walking. There is stiffness in his lower back. He is hurting. He seems to have some reservation about putting his finger in the blood analysis monitor, as though he knows the news won't be good. All the information collected and distributed over the HS Media network is not available to the athletes in the race. They still race in a virtual "information vacuum". The viewers at home on their HS Media have much more information about the race and the competitors than do the competitors in the race.

18:31 hrs. Local, Dearborn, Michigan. Triathlete's living room.

"Dude, punch up Koenigsmann's blood numbers!" One of bike shop guys nearly shouts as they watch the video image of Koenigsmann wobble out on to the start of the run. The other 42" monitor shows Fernando already has a two-minute lead and building.

Jim Smith hits the numbers on the view controller and Koenigsmann's numbers come up on the screen. Some of them are in red letters. One set is flashing. Thor Koenigsmann is becoming hyponatremic. The sodium concentration and serum osmolarity of his blood is well out of optimal range. Sodium is a required element for normal body functions, voluntary and involuntary. It is lost in sweat and urine and is replaced in a race like this with food and sports drinks. The body has a remarkable ability to maintain sodium and water balance throughout a variety of conditions, but these conditions are too extreme. Ultraendurance events throw this survival mechanism into chaos. Koenigsmann's body is entering that chaos and beginning to protest. The bad news shows on the blood chemistry screen.

Even before he realizes it, viewers at home know that Thor Koenigsmann has lost the Ironman.

Sunday, October 19, 2008.
12:43 hrs. Local, Run Course, Alii Drive,
Ironman Triathlon World Championship, Big Island, Hawaii.

Enrico Fernando has attacked. With none of the chase group in view he enters the small downtown area of Kailua Kona where a 40 foot Sony Mega Screen is set up for spectators to view the race. He went through the last mile at a 6:10 pace. Before he makes the right turn to head up to the lava fields he tries to see his competitors on the Mega Screen. Race organizers should know to black the screen out when the leaders go by, but Fernando got to the corner more quickly than they anticipated. The image he sees on the screen is of Koenigsmann, over four minutes behind him now.

The big German is walking.

14:54 hrs. Local, Finish Venue, Alii Drive,
Ironman Triathlon World Championship, Big Island, Hawaii.

The crowd and the viewers knew it almost two hours ago. Enrico Fernando, the formerly talented age-grouper, has won the 2008 Ironman Triathlon World Championship. His charge down the finish chute is a formality, a victory lap.

Viewers from all over the world see his finish in real time. When he gives his last blood sample the telemetry reveals he is barely dehydrated. His heart rate begins to fall the moment he crosses the finish line.

Out on the run course Thor Koenigsmann is on his back with an I.V. in his arm. His race is over. Viewers at home see his blood numbers qualify him for a spot in the emergency room from extreme dehydration and hyponatremia.

As a procession of other competitors file past on Highway 19 a miniature helicopter comes in close to hover near Koenigsmann as they load him to the ambulance.

HS Media viewers get a birdseye view of what it means to win the Ironman, and what its like to lose it.

 

 
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