Tim Van Berkel on course at IRONMAN Western Australia in 2019. Photo: Korupt Vision
A mix of experienced campaigners and up-and-comers highlight the men’s professional field at Sunday’s IRONMAN Western Australia in Busselton.
IRONMAN Western Australia returns for the first time since 2019, with 10 professional male triathletes set to line up to contest the iconic event.
Perth’s Matt Burton heads into Sunday’s race as one of the athletes to beat, having finished second in Busselton in 2019.
The 33-year-old will have an extra boost to get him over the finish line first on Sunday, with his wife Kim giving birth to their first child, a son Tom, on Tuesday. Tom was due to arrive on race day, but by entering the world a few days early has taken some of the pressure off the family heading into the event.
Burton has enjoyed the familiarity of preparing at home, with the ongoing challenges of the last 18 months meaning that opportunities to race have been limited.
“There’s comfort in preparing at home, lot of little luxuries that you get to enjoy rather than going to race abroad or even domestically, now it’s just exciting to race,” said Burton. “In an eight-hour race, you can still make plenty of mistakes throughout the day as good as it might seem from the outside so there’s a few things I want to rectify from two years ago. Obviously, IRONMAN Cairns this year was terrible for me and at IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast I was still way off the mark but I feel I’ve put myself in a better race form with some local events and now I just need to put it all together.”
Burton knows that while there may be fewer athletes on the start line than in previous years the competition will be as tight as ever.
“Whether it had of been five people or 50 or 100 the biggest thing for me was that there was just going to be a race, once they said they were going to push ahead with the Pro race I couldn’t care how many,” he said. “It’s important not to get sucked in, or even view who was coming, it was just great that there was going to be this race that means a lot to me, and I want to make it mean a lot, every field has quality in it, it’s a long day in an IRONMAN but the beauty of it being a smaller field this year is that it’s a very isolated day which suits me.”
Tim Van Berkel has had great success in the west, winning IRONMAN Western Australia back in 2008, and finishing third in both 2017 and 2019.
“I’ve really good success in WA. I’ve won the IRONMAN 70.3 twice, won the Australian champs in Mandurah once and won the IRONMAN once, I haven’t had many Pro wins but most of my Pro wins have been in the west so I’ve got a lot of good memories there and I’m excited to get back,” said Van Berkel. “There’s a really good triathlon culture over there, everyone gets down to the race and supports it, the locals in Busselton really embrace the race and there’s a good vibe, it’s flat fast racing and those courses really suit me.”
At 37, Van Berkel knows what he needs to do to get ready for an IRONMAN, and after a lack of events in the last two years is keen to make the most of every opportunity.
“The preparation has been very short and sweet but I’m feeling good and I feel fresh, I’m just hungry to race,” he said. “I haven’t got much racing done this year so I’m just excited to get on the start line and knock off another IRONMAN, I think this will be my 35th IRONMAN so I’m excited.
“IRONMAN Cairns is the only other race I got in this year and I was second up there, it would be nice to go one better and get a win,” he said. “I haven’t won an IRONMAN since Cairns in 2016 so it would be nice to get another IRONMAN win, I’ve probably only got another two years left in the sport so it would be good to get a win before I retire.”
South Australia’s Steve McKenna will contest his first IRONMAN on Australian shores this weekend, having last taken on the 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42.2km run in China in 2019.
“This is an amazing event and I’m excited,” said McKenna. “I did four weeks of full-on IRONMAN prep and the fatigue was really high, I’m cramming but I feel ready, I feel more ready than the only other event I did of this distance I’ve ever done, back in 2019. I did an 8:16 in China and I think I can do better than that, that’s for sure, four weeks prep might have been enough because I’ve been training all year for nothing, just waiting for events.
“About 10 weeks ago I decided to race in Busselton, I love the training for IRONMAN, I’ve had the best time ever and I’m really happy at the moment so I think I’ll race well,” he said. “I’m just trying to look at it like any other race, not building it up to be something that it’s not, which would be easy to do because it’s an IRONMAN, I’m trying to be quietly confident that I train this long all the time so surely I can do, just going to think about nutrition the whole time.”
McKenna, who claimed victory at IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong in March, is looking forward to the challenge of doubling the race distance at GWM IRONMAN Western Australia.
“I wouldn’t normally be rated as an IRONMAN guy, but I’m in much better shape than people would think, I’ve been training all year towards different events that didn’t go ahead, I’ve really dialled into my nutrition recently and have really dialled into these long continuous rides,” said McKenna. “The other guys are gurus at this distance, I look at the list and think that while it’s a small field for me there’s a few people that I think that could beat me, so if it’s a big field it doesn’t change much from what my position might be, with my strengths I think I could still come third if there were 10 more Pros here and I see myself being able to come third with who is here.
“Because we’ve been racing at home in Australia for the last two years everyone knows what everyone can do so we know how the race will go, it could go one of two ways,” he said. “We know what’s going to happen, it just depends what some people do with their tactics, Lachy Kerrin could try and rip up the race or he could have a tactic of saving himself and running well, he could change things, Matt Burton could come from behind and rip through the group that comes out of the water together at the front or it might just stay in that group for the whole ride and then it’s a running race, either way we know everyone’s strengths so it’s easy to plan for.”
Also set to race in Busselton is 2010 IRONMAN Western Australia champion Courtney Ogden, 2021 Mooloolaba Triathlon winner Leigh Anderson-Voigt and 2021 IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast third place finisher Caleb Noble.
A cyclist, tech geek at heart, a passion for new shiny things and a huge appetite for triathlon. I spend most of my time between managing two of the world's best triathletes and a traditional corporate life.