In a historic day of racing filled with fast times and fierce competition, Daniel Bækkegård of Denmark and Fenella Langridge of Great Britain emerged victorious at the 2023 Ironman Western Australia.
Bækkegård broke the tape in 7:34:23, crushing the previous course record by nearly 11 minutes on the strength of a blistering 4:09:57 bike split and a 2:37:43 run. He held off a brave challenge from Australian Matt Burton (7:40:28), while Aussie Nick Thompson (7:48:23) rounded out the podium in his Ironman debut.
On the women's side, Langridge stopped the clock at 8:29:43 to clip over nine minutes from the old course best. She ran down pre-race favorite Lisa Norden (8:33:02) of Sweden over the final miles of the marathon, while Dutch athlete Lotte Wilms (8:40:59) held on for third.
The event capped the 2023 Ironman season for many of the competitors, who now set their sights on the Ironman World Championship in Nice, France next September.
Swim: Fast Times And Tight Margins
Race morning in Busselton brought calm winds and ideal swim conditions in Geographe Bay. Among the men, Aussie veteran Sam Appleton set the early pace, exiting the water in 47:40 with countryman Steve McKenna (47:40) just steps behind. The lead duo was trailed immediately by Jack Sosinski (47:41), Bækkegård (47:42), and Scott Steenberg (47:44) to form a lead group of five.
The guys took it out pretty quick on the swim so I decided to save some energy there.
In the women's pro field, Langridge posted the fastest split of 51:07 to build a slim seven-second lead over Lotte Wilms (51:09). Chloe Lane (54:15) and Norden (54:16) paced the chase at over three minutes back.
"I was swimming with Lotte the whole way and I went to work on the bike knowing I had to be patient," Langridge commented.
Bike: Wind-Aided Speedfest
As athletes hit the bike course, they were greeted by favorable tailwinds that enabled blistering speeds over the pancake-flat 180km route.
Among the men, the lead swim group largely stuck together over the first 60km before Bækkegård decided to test their legs.
"60 km in I put the hammer down to try to separate the group a little bit," the Dane said. "From there I found myself in the lead alone."
While Bækkegård built his gap, further back Burton and Thompson were mounting furious comebacks after slower swims. The pair linked up 130km into the ride and worked cooperatively to reel in the Danish leader.
Their blistering pace paid off in the closing kilometers when Burton stormed to the front. He entered T2 with a slim lead on the stunned Bækkegård, having made up over five minutes. Their bike splits told the story—Burton 4:06:24, Bækkegård 4:09:57.
In the women's race, Langridge and Wilms managed to hold off Norden until the 95km mark, when the Swedish star finally fought through to the front. Showing the bike form that earned her an IRONMAN world best time earlier this year, Norden steadily built her lead over the remaining 85 kilometers.
By T2, she had extended to 4:51 ahead of Langridge, who remained a further 1:14 up on Wilms. Norden's scintillating 4:41:32 bike split was a new women's course record, but she may have sacrificed vital energy that she would need later in her run duel with the Brit.
I tried to stick to more speed over power and rode my own race knowing Lisa did a phenomenal bike and got the bike world record earlier this year.
Marathon: Baekkegard Surges As Langridge Hunts
Off the bike, Bækkegård quickly seized control, putting 20 seconds on Burton within the first 5km. He gradually upped his pace over the next 30km to open a lead of 2:10 by the halfway point. His kinetic stride and effortless form made his forthcoming record run look almost easy.
Meanwhile, Burton found himself locked in a battle for second as Thompson kept him honest. The podium spots never seemed in doubt, barring disaster for any of the top three.
On the women's side, Norden fought hard to maintain her lead, but Langridge's superior run fitness soon closed the gap. The Brit ran controlled early splits before picking off Norden just before the 30km mark.
"You never know you've got that win until the last 20 metres," an ecstatic Langridge said. She continued to pad her new lead all the way down the finishing chute, celebrating her first-ever Ironman win.
Wilms held steady in third throughout the run, consolidating her first podium result in an IRONMAN branded race. Her 8:40:59 mark missed the previous course record by mere seconds.
Finish: Baekkegard, Langridge Etch Names In Record Books
In the end, Bækkegård broke the finish tape at 7:34:23, claiming the men's course record previously held by Alistair Brownlee. Burton bettered his own personal best time from 2022 by over 15 minutes to hold off Thompson for second.
"Australia is one of my favorite countries," Bækkegård said. "Seriously everybody watching along out there come to Busselton to race, it's amazing."
Langridge likewise secured the women's course record with her winning time of 8:29:43. She avenged a difficult loss to Norden earlier this year and fulfilled her goal of topping an Ironman podium before season's end.
"You never forget your first Ironman win, it was amazing" a jubilant Langridge remarked.
After celebrating their hard-fought victories, both newly crowned champions immediately set their sights on a return to Nice to defend their Western Australia titles. First, though, they will celebrate with some classic Australian cuisine.
"I love the food culture here," Bækkegård said with a grin. No doubt Langridge feels the same after the effort expended on her epic record run.
All told, over 3,000 age group athletes joined the pros at Western Australia, racing various distances late into the night. After tempering the winds and flattening the swells earlier, even Mother Nature seemed determined to enable fast times in this one. Bækkegård, Langridge and company happily obliged en route to an unforgettable day in Busselton.