Sundays Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship Melbourne offers arguably the most star studded field seen in Australia to date. 2010 Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae will be favourite to take out the race, but everything will have to go to plan if she is to head off what is expected to be a very strong challenge from fellow Australian Rebekah Keat, Swiss Athlete Caroline Steffan, Britain’s Rachel Joyce and Kiwi Gina Crawford. The action will be fast and furious throughout the field with multiple Ironman winners Jo Lawn (NZ), Belinda Granger (Aus) and Jessica Jacobs (US) all potential podium finishers.
The 4,000 Kona qualification points on offer as a result of this being a Regional Championship was always going to ensure a stacked field, and WTC will not be disappointed with the result, nor with how Melbourne (dubbed Australia’s sporting capital) is getting behind the event. The State Government has been keen to throw its weight behind the event, and Government Ministers have been taking a high profile associating themselves with the event.Â Television, print and online coverage will be extensive, all of which is a boon for the sport locally.
The course is new, and with so much of the bike leg being on Highways, untested for most of the athletes. Throw in the unpredictability of Melbourne’s weather (though with two days to go it is looking perfect) and the unpredictability of an Iron distance race and it really could be anyone’s day.
Miranda should, with her blistering marathon be able to take the honors and she only needs to finish to validate her slot for Kona, however she told Trizone â€œI figure if I am going to put myself through an IM event I may as well do it properly.Â I will be racing for my best possible result, the goal is always to try and win.â€ She is not bothered by her lack of familiarity with the course â€œI have had some of my best performances on unknown courses.Â I don’t mind a few surprises in a race â€“ it keeps it interesting!â€ She acknowledges that the race really is very early in her seasons schedule, which may play into the hands of some of the other athletes â€œI’ve been training up in Noosa with a bunch of great friends and training partners since the beginning of January.Â We have been able to get in some consistent training weeks and I have really enjoyed my time here.Â For the most part it’s all about building a good base at this stage of the year.Â I think I am in pretty good early season shape.Â I wanted to put in a solid off season of training to help prepare for the year ahead.Â I think I was successful in doing that.Â Whether that will translate into a great performance in Melbourne we have yet to see.â€
Fellow Australian Rebekah Keat, who on her day can be dazzlingly brilliant, will be doing everything in her power to be the first Aussie to win the home country race. She won the first Challenge Cairns event last year with a dominant performance, and knows how to intimidate her opponents. Bek seems to only race one way â€“ hard. When asked about her race tactics she responded â€œI never have a tactic, I just want to go as hard as I can and as fast as I can. I won’t be worrying about where anyone else is to be honestâ€. Confidence is never a problem for Bek and she describes herself as the fittest she has ever been, so the rest of the field is on notice.
Caroline Steffen is a hugely talented Swiss athlete who bases herself on Australia’s Sunshine coast, and will almost consider this a home country race. She won last year’s Ironman Australia, even though she was carrying a foot injury, and to be honest never looked troubled by the other athletes. She was second behind Miranda at the 2010 World Championships and will be looking to go one better than her rival in this event. If she is injury free she certainly has the potential and ability to do so. Britain’s Rachel Joyce has been a consistently strong performer in recent years, improving on her 5th place finish at the 2010 World Championships with a 4th place last year, and second placing’s at South Africa and the notoriously tough Lanzarote. She will be desperate for her breakthrough win.
The Kiwi’s are well represented with Gina Crawford and Jo Lawn. With her seven wins at Ironman New Zealand and six top ten finishes at Kona Jo is a legend in these parts. Both Jo and Gina are backing up from Ironman New Zealand which became a half event due to extreme weather conditions. The different nature of the Taupo event has thrown another variable into the mix for the girls. Jo is unsure of the impact and says she had not planned on doing a half three weeks before an ironman.Â â€œI had to recover from the half ironman in Taupo. My legs were trashed for nearly a week….. so (I have been doing) a lot of swimming and kicking. Then back into a normal 10 day taper. She is positive about it all though saying â€œNothing prepares you better than doing a race!â€
Gina had always planned on doing the race, but admits that after the Taupo situation she is taking it much more seriously. Like Jo her lead in has not been â€˜traditional’Â â€œâ€¦as the goal was NZ Ironman I tapered down for that race slightly,Â then it was only a half ironman, so instead of taking a week off as I planned, I got straight back into training and then another taper. Not the traditional preparation that I do for an Ironman!â€ Gina is a very impressive athlete, and with a more â€˜traditional’ lead in would have undoubtedly been a real threat on race day. It is hard to know how much impact the disrupted lead in will have on her, but she has the mental and physical strength to mix it with the best on any course.
Roll on Sunday!