The swim was a frenetic free-for-all, the bike ride no cakewalk and the run a backwoods fight against steep terrain and tree roots.

But otherwise the triathlon at the U.S. National Senior Sports Classic III was a pleasurable experience for Bill Thomas.

Competing in his first Senior Classic, the 63-year-old New Windsor resident turned in his best triathlon time, finishing in 1 hour, 19minutes, 6 seconds.

"I just like to do well," Thomas said, when asked what spurred him to the personal best.

Thomas finished 54th in the field of 127 competitors. But race officials recorded only the top six finishers in each age bracket, so it's not known exactly where Thomas finished in the men's 60-to-64 age division.

However, he improved his position 14 spots during the run portion, after finishing the cycling leg in 68th place.

The overall winner was 61-year-old Tob Deboer of Ithaca, N.Y., who finished in 1:03:41.

The triathlon was the last event of the six-day classic, which featured competition in 18 sports for athletes age 55 and older and drew more than 5,000 competitors to town.

The triathlon was run at Green Lakes StatePark, about six miles east of Syracuse, where the games were centered. The event consisted of a 400-meter swim, a 12.2-mile bike ride, and a three-mile run.

Afterward, many athletes complained about the swim, say

ing too many people were crammed into too small an area.

"They were just beating on each other," Thomas said. "I climbed over several people."

The competitors also said the run portion posed a formidable challenge. The run began with a steep uphill stretch,followed by an abrupt downhill section. Many parts of the trail werenarrow and cluttered with brush

and tree roots.

Thomas also competed in the 800-meter and 5-kilometer runs earlier in the week.

After the triathlon, Thomas joked with 62-year-old Dick Web

ber ofHendersonville, N.C., who passed him on the latter part of the course.

"I shall catch you in Baton Rouge," Thomas said, referring to the '93 games in Louisiana.

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