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Putin hails ‘truly great’ inaugural Russian Ironman as grueling triathlon takes place in St Petersburg for the first time (VIDEO)

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Russian president Vladimir Putin was among the supporters of his country’s first ever hosting of the Ironman endurance series, which saw athletes descend on St. Petersburg for an action-packed Sunday in testing weather conditions.

The event took in 1.2 miles of swimming in open water, a cycling stage of 56 miles and a half marathon run, with some dubbing the spectacle as the city’s “own Olympics”, attracting around 2,5000 visitors.

Organizer Marek Nemczyk suggested that no-one else would be capable of organizing such a large-scale event during a pandemic, adding that he was looking forward to the return of the showpiece next year.

Putin pointed to the demands of the race, observing that only “the fastest, strongest and most enduring” can reach the finish line.

“I am sure that the current competition will become a significant and truly great event and will contribute to the growth of the popularity of triathlon in Russia,” he predicted.

“We are rightfully proud of the striking victories and records of our athletes at major, authoritative competitions.

“We are actively developing a high-performance sports and mass physical culture movement, and we are actively involved in the implementation of international projects aimed at popularizing the values ​​of a healthy lifestyle.”

Ilya Slepov claimed top honors in the men’s competition. “There is no beautiful finish line, no photograph with a medal and no smile,” he wrote on Instagram.

“But this is how I was given victory in the overall standings in the first Ironman in the history of Russia,” Slepov added, with a photo of himself collapsed at the finish line.

Three-time Junior silver Olympic medalist Kristina Kochetkova scooped the women’s equivalent, with Daria Chunareva ending as runner-up.

Top 10 finisher Elizaveta Ivanova gave an insight into the conditions of the tough competition, saying there was “terrible wind with rain” and sun.

“I want to be faster, stronger and motivate others,” she declared. “And I’m just getting started and [getting] insane pleasure from what I’m doing.

“Thanks to everyone who supported me on this difficult and long day.”

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