LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, TEXAS —
On Oct. 22, James Bales, a medical resident at Wilford Hall Medical Center, represented the Air Force as a member of the Combined 2007 All-Armed Forces Triathlon team that competed in the World Military Games held in Mumbai, India.
The Olympic distance course featured a 1,500-meter swim, 40-km bike ride and a 10-km run. The World Military Games occur every four years, and is the second largest sports venue besides the Olympics.
There were more than 5,500 athletes competing from 161 countries, representing their armed forces in the World Military Games. The triathlon event featured 91 male athletes from 101 countries.
Bales unofficially finished 30th overall with an unofficial time of 1:57:12.
"India isn't as technologically advanced as we are," Bales said. "They had very bulky leg bands that were monitoring our progress, and officials were having problems getting accurate results."
Three weeks later, Bales has a scar on his right ankle as a reminder of the gaudy tracking bracelet that he had to wear during the competition.
According to Bales, most foreign country militaries sponsor athletes to compete in athletic competition.
"A lot of these other countries have professional athletes in their military," Bales said. "This is their job. They spend all year training for these types of events."
Consequently, 25 to 50 percent of the participants will compete in the 2008 Olympics.
According to Bales, what separated the American team from other teams was not necessarily the speed or strength of the other competitors, but the team tactics that go into racing.
The U.S. armed forces team did not have time to develop a strategy because they do not employ a full-time triathlon team that trains together like other countries.
"Teams were protecting their best runners who made it to the head of the pack. Other teams just raced smarter," Bales said.
The U.S. armed forces team also drew the worst possible starting point, which cost the team valuable time during the swim, almost ensuring they would not be able to catch other teams.
"At this level, even seconds matter, and with a 50-meter head start, you are looking at 45 seconds to a minute of time differential," Bales said.
On a day that featured temperatures in the mid 90s and almost 100 percent humidity, the triathlon course took competitors from the Arabian Sea to Chowpatty Highway, which is the main road through downtown Mumbai, the largest city in the world.
With 13 million people living in the city proper and another 6 million living in the metropolitan area, it was a huge accomplishment to have the Indian government shut down its main road for the competition.
The triathletes were motivated by more than 150,000 spectators that gathered to see the event.
"I think it was a good experience to foster friendship through sports and have countries put everything else aside and come together and race," Bales said.
Bales did not enjoy a trial run through the course like the other athletes because of his residential requirements. He had a 32-hour trip to India, which brought him into the Mumbai airport at 3 a.m., just hours before opening ceremonies.
Bales' trip back to Lackland to 39 hours, and which ended with him working that night.
"I work 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. every day for the next three months, so there was no break for me," Bales said. "Still, I was just thankful to be out there, especially as a surgical resident, and representing the United States on an international level."
The residency work hours helped Bales acclimate to the 11 1/2- hour time difference.
"With the huge time zone difference, the race actually took place during the time I would have been working," Bales said.
The World Military Games will be held again in 2011 at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
"Visiting Rio would be incredible," Bales said. "I'm going to try to make it back for that one."