Ironman New Zealand Time for a Changing of the Guard?
Cameron Brown has dominated Ironman New Zealand for a decade and in 2011 he set a record by being the first man in history to win the same Ironman event 10 times. So will age and the fastest Ironman in the world (Marino Vanhoenaker) finally catch up with the Kiwi legend? In the women’s race seven time winner Jo Lawn had her run of victories interrupted last year by Sam Warriner and will be wanting to prove that her dominance is not yet finished, but will have to contend with very strong challenges from fellow Kiwi Gina Crawford and American Jessica Jacobs.
Both the men’s and women’s fields are stacked with talent, this willÂ be the most competitive men’s field in recent memory which is going to lead to some very exciting racing this weekend.
Brown admits to becoming even more motivated in his training sessions when he found out Marino was racing. â€œI’m not doing the 40 hour weeks to come second, that’s for sure. Marino is an amazing athlete. He has a record a bit similar to mine back in Austria and he’s been on the podium in Kona. He didn’t finish last year and will need the qualifying points, so I am sure he will come here in shape.
â€œHe is also a top swimmer and a huge cyclist.â€
Marino is not the only athlete Brown will be keeping an eye on, fellow Kiwi Terenzo Bozzone had a disastrous 2011 with injuries, but now seems to be back on track. â€œTerenzo has got a good swim on him and he is a very good biker. You always want to be close to your competition. The last couple of years I’ve been able to get back up to him after his strengths,â€ Brown said.
Another Kiwi to watch out for will be Jamie Whyte who placed second recently at Challenge Wanaka. Talking about doing two iron distance races so close together Jamie said â€œIt has been a challenging 6 weeks. After taking a week off I soon realised I was carrying a small knee niggle. I have had to manage it diligently through this block of training. But I have been able to get through all my key sessions well and my workouts on the bike suggest that my riding has come up another level since Wanaka.â€
Jamie is happy that all of the focus is on the Marino/Cameron battle as this takes all pressure off him. Who does he think will prevail on race day? â€œIt will take an exceptional performance from someone like Marino to knock over Cam on this course. I have the pleasure (sometimes not that pleasurable though) of training with Cam most days. He knows how to get himself in peak shape for this race and knows how to deliver on the Taupo course. He is a world class athlete but on the Taupo course he is at another level again. It will be an exciting race to watch unfold for sure.â€
Jamie will once again be going up against the man who knocked him over at Wanaka, Aussie Aaron Farlow. Aaron says he has pulled up well after Wanaka and has been able to get back into some solid training. He went on â€œIt took a while to come down from the high of winning the race. I didn’t sleep more than 4 hours for the next 3 days I was so hyped up!â€
Aaron thinks the race will be decided on the run â€œif there are packs on the bike I think guys like Tim Reed could surprise a few people. Hopefully I’ll have my run legs and be able to have a good go.
I think there will be a few guys willing to sacrifice themselves in the first 60km of the bike to catch the leaders (so) that you will see (them) fade towards the end of the bike, I don’t want to get caught up in that sort of stuff.â€
In terms of what it will take to knock Cam over at Taupo? â€An Elephant gun! If anyone can beat him they will have to have a great race.â€
Keegan Willams who has placed fourth for the last two years could be a surprise package on race day. Keegan said â€œI expect Marino to stamp his authority in the last 90k (of the bike) with the rest of the field coming into T2 in bits and pieces. Then onto the run and I think there will be some hot action in the first 21k then some big explosions in the last 21kâ€
He believes the winner will have to run a 2:45 marathon and in termss of his own race plan is going to aim for â€œsome smarter pacing so I can really run the last 21kâ€.
The women’s race should be every bit as exciting and close as the men’s race. Jo will be looking to prove last year was a blip. She spent fifteen minutes by the side of the road in atrocious weather conditions while trying to fix a puncture, though she in no way uses this as an excuse for her third placing behind Sam Warriner and Mirinda Carfrae.
Talking to Trizone Jo said she was â€œgoing into this race feeling excited and rearing to goâ€¦.. No niggles. Completely 100%!â€ She is not thinking too much about her competitors â€œI know my strengths and I just have to worry about meâ€ she also recognises that other factors will come into play on race day â€œThe weather is something that can play a BIG part in this race.â€ She puts her domination of this race down to â€â€¦just good preparation year in and year out. Just like Cam Brown â€¦ we put our heads down and train hard and can deliver a solid performance on a tough and very demanding course.Â I don’t see (my record) as dominance, I just see it as several different races with the same outcome!â€
Her stiffest challenge is likely to come from recent Challenge Wanaka winner, Kiwi Gina Crawford. Gina reports that she has pulled up very well after Wanaka. She said â€ (I) Took a whole week off even though the muscles felt good, I just wanted to make sure my body was fully healed and then got back into it.â€
One of the challenges for Gina had been training for an iron distance race with a new baby (Benji is still just seven months old), however the other athletes better watch out as she’s been getting more rest of recent!Â â€œAll the lack of sleep finally caught up with me, never getting any more than 2 hours in a row for so many months. Then we had to train Benji to sleep without getting up for feeding meaning a rough few nights but on the plus side we now have a baby who sleeps a full 12 hours without waking! So I have so much more energy and feel like a real person again!â€
Gina is expecting a very different race from Wanaka where she led from start to finish â€œI hope to come out of the water with the likes of Meredith Kessler and Jo Lawn and stay with them on the bike. So I think it will come down to a running race. Coming from behind we will have Jessica Jacobs a really really good runner, and if she gets the company of age group men on the bike she will have very fresh legs and be dangerous. So I will be working super hard all day to stay in front of her. Also Kate Bevilaqua has a good bike and run so the race is really open to anyone to win.â€
Australia’s hopes lay with Kate Bevilaqua who is pumped up for the race â€œI can’t wait! I definitely feel like I am in much better shape than the last few years, but saying thatâ€¦it is an early season race and the fist big race since time off so it is always an unknown. I love racing Taupo and will always keep returning here to kick start my year.â€
Like Jo, Kate is focusing on her own race rather than worrying about her rivals â€œI approach every race the same. I train hard and consistently and have my goals and will focus on my race. If I achieve those and finish 4th then I am happy. It has taken me a while to learn but you have no control over any one else’s race so the focus is on my goalsâ€¦the rest will happen on its own!â€
The other main threat for the women’s race is American Jessica Jacobs.Â Jacobs was a former member of the US armed forces and turned to triathlon after the birth of her daughter. She had nearly seven years in the army serving in Korea, Germany, Virginia, Kentucky and Texas. She has a running background, with a best marathon time last year of 2:48, and she is looking at the qualifying mark of 2:45 for the US Olympic Trials.
The 33-year-old won Ironman Florida in 2010, and successfully defended her crown last year with a remarkable 8:55, the 13th fastest Ironman time in history by a female, on the back of a 2:53 marathon, the fastest ever by an American.