This year is set to be a year like no other for IRONMAN, with the rescheduled 2021 IRONMAN World Championship to be held this Saturday 7 May in Utah, the first location to host the event outside of Hawai`i since its origins in 1978, ahead of the 2022 Supersapians IRONMAN World Championship returning to Kona, Hawai’i this October.
Matt Burton, representing Australia in the professional men’s field alongside Cameron Wurf and Max Neumann, is preparing for a test that has been almost three years in the making, when he finally lines up for the Intermountain Healthcare IRONMAN World Championship presented by Utah Sports Commission in St. George, USA, this Saturday.
Burton booked his spot at his debut IRONMAN World Championship as a professional way back at IRONMAN Western Australia in 2019, with COVID-19 interruptions getting in the way since then, and the 34-year-old is excited to finally hit that start line.
“2019 was when I qualified, it was such a lengthy process at that point, but it’s really exciting for me,” said Burton “I’m a little fish here in a massive pond in terms of the quality and calibre of athlete, but I feel coming off an Aussie summer it’s probably a bit of a dream for those of us who live in the southern hemisphere to race in a World Championship at this time of year and especially with it being my first time to line up at an event of this level.”
A lot has changed for Burton personally since booking his World Championship slot, firstly getting married to now wife Kim, and more recently welcoming son Tom into the world.
“I was talking to my wife about it the other day, when I qualified for this I wasn’t married and I didn’t have a son so there’s been a few large-ish life events that have gone on in the last couple of years,” said Burton.
Renee Kiley will be the sole Australian in the women’s professional race in St. George and the Brisbane-based athlete is looking forward to getting to the start line of a World Championship that has been a long time coming.
“I’m feeling pretty relaxed right now, I’ve been over in the US for the last five weeks training up in altitude in Flagstaff and came down here early so I’ve already been here for over a week,” said Kiley. “I’m actually going good and settled and relaxed and having fun and getting familiar with the course right now.”
Kiley’s journey to the start line at this year’s World Championship is unlike any other in the women’s professional field. Back in 2014 Kiley was a pack a day smoker who weighed over 100kg and had not exercised in years. From there she found the sport of triathlon and transformed her life, becoming a professional athlete in 2017, and recently qualifying for her first World Championship at the top level.
“This is a huge dream for me, when I turned professional it was something I sat down with my coach at the time and said maybe it might be a slight possibility that I could qualify for the World Championships by the end of my career, and I thought that would be a five or six year process but it’s really special that it’s come in my third year racing professionally and I’m really going to try and savour the moment and reflect on where I’ve come from,” she said.
The St. George course is set to challenge even the best IRONMAN athletes and Kiley has been spending the last week coming to terms with what lies ahead.
“Honestly, I’ve had moments all week and a couple of pro friends of mine we’ve been chatting during the week questioning whether we’re fit enough and prepared enough because I think the course is scaring everyone a little bit,” she said. “There’s 2,300 metres of climbing, and there’s two legitimate climbs in that, it’s very up and down, you can’t get into a rhythm on that bike course. It’s going to zap everyone’s legs and that climb up Snow Canyon in the last 15km of the race.
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games silver medallist, Lauren Parker, is also set to race on the biggest stage in IRONMAN this weekend as she competes in the handcycle category.
“It’s pretty exciting, going to my first IRONMAN distance race since before my accident so I can’t wait to be there at the World Championships,” said Parker. “I’ve had a pretty good preparation, I’m feeling good for it.
“I love IRONMAN, it’s where my heart’s always been and where my heart is,” she said. “Just to be there on that start line, I’m super grateful to be out there competing with all the able-bodied athletes like I once was, but to be given the opportunity to be back at an IRONMAN I can’t be more thankful. It’s going to be an exciting day and a lot of emotions during the day I can expect, but I’m looking forward to every part of it.”
The 33-year-old had success at the IRONMAN World Championship before her accident, finishing second in her age group in 2015 and is looking forward to returning to the famous race.
“It’s going to be so special and to be out there and showing people with both disabilities and able-bodied people that anything is possible no matter what you’ve been through or what you’re going through,” said Parker. “I want to bring home to a lot of people and inspire people to be positive and that if you really go after your goals and dreams anything is possible and I hope to do that on the day.”