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40 Show Mettle, Vie in Ironman Event : Tradition: The annual Fourth of July contest--involving running, paddling and downing a six-pack of beer--again draws criticism in Hermosa Beach.

July 07, 1994|JAMES BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

About 40 competitors in Hermosa Beach celebrated Independence Day by taking part in the annual Ironman competition--a running, paddling and beer-chugging extravaganza near city shores.

The bacchanalian event, in which contestants run a mile, paddle a mile and then guzzle a six-pack of beer, sparked controversy last year when the drinking portion of the competition was held on the beach--a violation of city ordinances.

This year, led by Councilman Robert (Bergie) Benz the annual Fourth of July event began on the beach with a rendition of the national anthem. And as is tradition, it culminated in a nearby back yard in a sweaty frenzy of men dancing, drinking and, inevitably, vomiting.

Hermosa Beach "is just one big, happy family," Benz said after chugging a six-pack of generic beer and holding it down successfully for the required 20 minutes. "This was great, I had a ball."

A crowd of 300 onlookers, some standing on nearby rooftops, braved the stale stench of competitors to cheer on the contestants.

The event has been a twisted fixture in Hermosa Beach for more than a decade.

Benz was chided by Hermosa Beach school trustees and numerous other critics last year for his involvement in the competition, which features a special award for "the most picturesque barf."

Trustees said Benz was supposed to be a role model, and criticized him for drinking beer on the beach.

In return, Benz, an outspoken libertarian known as "The Senator" among some of the contestants, wrote a lengthy letter blasting the district's anti-drug curriculum as irrational. Benz has stated that he views the district's policy as a throwback to the days of prohibition.

As he stretched on the sand before the competition, Pat Gould, a 24-year-old Hermosa Beach contestant, defended the Ironman as a serious athletic endeavor.

"It's very hard to do, and at the end, you're lightheaded," said Gould.

While most of the competitors were men, one woman took part in the event this year.

Annie Seawright, 28, made her second appearance in the competition Monday. Last year, she was unable to drink all six beers, but this year she chugged six cans of Coors Light and didn't throw up.

Elaine Fuess 35, of Los Angeles probably summed up the attitude of scores of spectators as she rode along the bike path: "I think it's pretty silly."

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