World Ironman Championship, Kona – Women’s Pro Preview

The professional women's field is shaping up to be a cracker, with the biggest battle being to simply make it to the start line. The talent pool is deep, making it a difficult task to make a call on the top ten come Saturday. Despite this, we'll start with a look at some of the […

World Ironman Championship, Kona – Women’s Pro Preview

The professional women’s field is shaping up to be a cracker, with the biggest battle being to simply make it to the start line. The talent pool is deep, making it a difficult task to make a call on the top ten come Saturday. Despite this, we’ll start with a look at some of the favourites based on current and past form. Caroline Steffen is back for her fourth attempt at the title, and this year is our pick to take the crown. Rachel Joyce has had a quiet year, and despite racing whilst unwell in 2012 and struggling home in 11th place, was on a steady improvement in years past, and is well overdue for a podium finish. Fellow team mate of Steffen, Mary Beth Ellis, despite suffering a broken collar bone and separated AC joint just four weeks ago, still remains amongst our picks to finish on the podium. Ellis would have to be one of the toughest athletes on the circuit and if anyone can recover from such injuries this quickly, our money is on Ellis doing so.

There are a number of other contenders, including the 2012 defending World Champion Leanda Cave, who despite having a slow year quite clearly stated at the press conference today that she is ready to race, and will be racing to win!

Here’s a look at twelve of the female professionals lining up on Saturday. We’ll preview the remainder of the field tomorrow, as there is plenty of talent right throughout the 36 professionals racing.

Caroline Steffen, 35, SUI

The favourite on both current and past performance would have to be Caroline Steffen, despite having fallen short of the World Championship crown for the previous three years straight. Caroline has notched up some solid wins this year including Challenge Roth in July, and a nice pay day at MetaMan Bintan only 6 weeks ago. After her initial introduction to the Big Island, with a second place finish to Chrissie Wellington in 2010, Steffen hasn’t yet managed to finish atop of the podium in Kona. Having fallen short of expectations in 2011, fading to 5th place in the closing steps of the marathon, Steffen returned in 2012 with a vengeance. Steffen, fellow teamTBB training partner Mary Beth Ellis and eventual 2012 champion Leanda Cave fought a close battle, each facing their own somewhat controversial drafting penalties that appeared to be somewhat game changers.

Steffen has altered her preparation for the Ironman World Championship this year, with a lead up similar to that of Chrissie Wellington back in 2007 (Steffen is coached by Brett Sutton, Wellington’s former coach concurrent with her debut win). The plan has been to race less and to prepare in appropriate conditions, thus making her race in Bintan an integral part of this year’s preparations. Many say that the Big Island has some type of mystical power, that you must pay your dues to and respect the islands Gods, something both Chrissie Wellington and Miranda Carfrae (2010 Champion) concur. It’s anyone’s guess if there is any truth to this theory, but let’s hope Steffen has ticked this box and pleased the island’s mystical forces this year. Those who have watched Steffen pour her heart and soul into winning this race in previous years would be hard pressed not to be silently backing the Swiss Miss to finally achieve her dreams come Saturday.

Rachel Joyce, 35, GBR

It’s been a quiet year for Joyce, who despite a little illness (Joyce was unable to start at Challenge Roth due to illness) has had a good lead up to Kona. The Brit has slowly been earning her stripes on the Big Island, with a sixth place finish in 2009, fifth place in 2010, fourth in 2011, and a well overdue podium finish eluding her in 2012. Illness saw Joyce start last years race in less than good health, managing to finish just outside the top ten in eleventh place. Having her tonsils removed at the end of 2012, Joyce rebuilt and started the season slowly with a seventh place finish at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. The Brit announced her return to form with a race-record 8:49:15 win at Ironman Texas in May, but failed to start at Challenge Roth due to illness. Based on the pattern of the past 12 months Joyce’s form could be a little unpredictable, yet if she makes it to the start line in good health would have to be a contender for a podium finish.

Mary Beth Ellis, 36, USA

Our pick for the win leading into this year’s race, at least before a water filled pot-hole on the roads of Mexico derailed her preparations on the fateful day of September 9. Undefeated over eight Ironman races outside of Kona, Ellis has already this year won Ironman 70.3 Florida in 4:14:03; set a course record and dominated Ironman Nice; won comfortably at Alpe D’Huez over a brutal training weekend; and grabbed another controlled win at Ironman Mont Tremblant amongst a field desperate for final Kona qualifying points. Although don’t expect a broken collar bone to stop this American born member of teamTBB. Ellis flew home from her teams camp in Cozumel, Mexico following her accident to undergo surgery to pin her fractured collar bone. A desperate reaction to a bad situation, perhaps, but with the nickname of “the honey badger” by teamTBB coach Brett Sutton and fellow athletes, don’t expect this bad ass woman to curl up and cry. Ellis would have to be the toughest athlete on the circuit, and despite her injuries having severely impeded her preparations, expect to see her putting her body on the line come Saturday. We look forward to watching Ellis go to war with her own pain threshold, and predict a podium finish despite a crash that would have prevented most if not all from even starting.

Leanda Cave, 35, GBR

Reigning Ironman World Champion Leanda Cave has a habit of surprising those that aren’t familiar with her late season bloom. In 2012 Cave won the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, backing up a month later to take the double; becoming the first woman in the history of the sport to do so. Looking solely at these two results, it could be said that Cave had a brilliant year. The truth was in fact quite the opposite, with Cave having struggled with illness and injury throughout most of the season, with a very limited resume of results on the board late 2011 and throughout the first half of 2012. The past year has seen a similar pattern emerge, with Cave very quiet on the racing front, and with a somewhat disappointing finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas just last month. It is anyone’s guess what form Cave is in, but one thing for certain is you can’t simply write the British born, Aussie raised athlete known as “Big Bird” off until the race is over. Cave knows how to handle herself when the pressure is on, as displayed by her incredible pose during 2012’s controversial penalty firing squad, and the conditions in Kona play to her strengths.

Mirinda Carfrae, 32, AUS

The Aussie chose to remain out of the spotlight leading into this World Championship event, forfeiting her spot at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas in favour of racing Muskoka 70.3 in Canada the same weekend. In similar fashion to Leanda Cave, Carfrae doesn’t place too much importance on notching up big wins over the season. Instead the Aussie known as “Rinnie” starts the season off steady, and consistently works her way up the results ladder. With nothing short of a third placed finish on the Big Island you can be sure Rinnie will turn up in form. A record 2:52:09 run in 2011 points towards the obvious – this woman can run! The question however is Rinnie’s ability to minimise her deficit on the bike with such a strong field of women lining up in 2013. The dynamic of the women’s race is steadily changing, with Chrissie Wellington having prompted a change to the way the women approach their training and racing. Carfrae has struggled to match the biking strength of competitors such as Steffen, Cave and Ellis in the past, and the field is only growing stronger. Regardless Rinnie has posted consistent marathon times well under three hours every year, and must be considered a threat right to the finish line.

Jodie Swallow, 32, GBR

Another talented Brit, Swallow would have to be one of the most naturally talented female athletes on the circuit outside of Chrissie Wellington. Yet to race in Kona, this is not going to stop her from looking to add another world title to her already impressive resume. The 2009 ITU Long Distance World Champion this year set a course record in winning Ironman 70.3 South Africa; finished second to Camilla Pederson at Ironman Frankfurt in 8:58:43, and joined the much aspired to sub-9 Ironman club. Swallow then continued the winning streak at Ironman Sweden in August, once again finishing under nine hours in 8:54:01. Having left teamTBB and coach Brett Sutton to join the Abu Dhabi Professional team in 2012, Swallow returned to what works best for her in 2013, back under the guidance of coach Brett Sutton. Swallow is more than capable of swimming with some of the sports best male swimmers, so expect to see her with a sizeable lead out of the water. With Caroline Steffen, Mary Beth Ellis and Jodie Swallow all strong contenders, it will be interesting to watch race tactics play out.

Yvonne Van Vlerken, 34, NED

If you paid any attention to this Dutch pocket rocket at Ironman Melbourne, you will have witnessed her fly through the field at blazing speed following a slow start to the day. Expect no different at Kona, and never write her off until the race is over. Van Vlerken burst onto the Iron distance scene in 2007, with an 8:51:55 finish at Challenge Roth, following much success as a multiple duathlon champion. If the Dutch star hadn’t yet caught the triathlon world’s attention, she made sure of this in 2008 in setting a new Iron-distance world record of 8:45:48 – breaking Paula Newby Fraser’s fourteen-year-old record in the process. Van Vlerken is now coached by defending world champion Leanda Cave’s coach Siri Lindley, basing herself in the mountains of Santa Monica to train under the watchful eye of the very successful American coach. Van Vlerken is twice Ironman Cozumel Champion (2009, 2010), set a new course record at Ironman Florida in 2012 (8:51:35), and this year finished second at both Ironman Melbourne and Challenge Roth. This impressive list of results includes four sub-nine hour performances.

Gina Crawford, 32, NZL

There’s no doubt New Zealand’s Gina Crawford knows how to win, as proven by her eleven Iron-distance titles. Returning from giving birth to her first son Benji, Crawford was straight back to business on home soil, winning Challenge Wanaka in January of 2012 whilst still breastfeeding. Despite the challenges presented by being a new mother, nothing appears to have deterred Crawford, who is doing a brilliant job at making a living for herself and young family racing internationally since giving birth. Despite this Kona is a whole new beast, and Crawford has only ever posted two top ten finishes, with an 8th in 2008, and a 7th in 2012. To finish amongst the podium placers Crawford will have to post a marathon close to or just sub 3 hours, of which she is capable of with the right strategy come race day. Perhaps the added motivation of providing for son Benji will add some fuel to this Kiwi’s fire on Saturday.

Rebekah Keat, 35, AUS

Perhaps best known for her good sportsmanlike gesture of handing over a C02 cartridge to eventual 2008 Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington, Keat has her own impressive list of results. Posting the third fastest Iron-distance time of 8:39 at Challenge Roth in 2009, Keat had to be satisfied with second on the day to former team mate Chrissie Wellington. Keat then went on to win Challenge Cairns in 2011, and in 2012 finished second at three major Ironman races internationally: Ironman Texas, Ironman New York and Ironman Western Australia. 2013 has seen Keat battle some calf and tendonitis concerns, seeing her withdraw from Ironman Frankfurt in July, before returning to the race course to finish second behind Mary Beth Ellis at Ironman Mont Tremblant; securing her Kona qualification. Having been on the Ironman scene for many years, Keat is one that definitely has the talent to win in Kona, but has yet to deliver on race day. Another of Siri Lindley’s talented squad member’s, this may see an interesting dynamic playing out on course, with Keat, Cave and Van Vlerken all under Siri’s wing, and up against Steffen, Ellis and Swallow racing for teamTBB and all coached by Brett Sutton (Siri’s former coach).

Linsey Corbin, 32, USA

A consistent contender when injury free and in form, Corbin has had a rough couple of years fighting overall exhaustion alongside a leg injury. The Montanan who never crosses a finish line without her cowboy hat proved she has the ability to perform when it counts, with her third placed finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas in 2011. Corbin’s best Kona finish was a 5th place in 2008, alongside two other top ten finishes. Corbin finished 2012 with a win at Ironman Arizona, and kicked 2013 off with a win at Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant, and a 5th place amongst a world championship level field at Ironman 70.3 Vineman in July. If Corbin has come to Kona injury and illness free, expect to see a cowboy hat in the finish chute amongst the top ten.

Natascha Badmann, 46, SUI

If ever there was a role model to encourage women to defy age and continue to pursue their athletic dreams well into their forties, it would have to be Swiss born Badmann. In 2012, at 45 years of age, Badmann finished 6th in Kona, and posted the fastest female bike split of the day in a blistering 5:06:07. Badmann has experienced much success on the Big Island, with six victories and two second place finishes to her name. The Swiss star knows the course and accompanying conditions like the back of her hand, so don’t be surprised to see the now 46 year old fighting it out amongst the top ten women.

Sonja Tajsich, 37, GER

German Tajsich ran into fourth place in 2012 with a sub three hour marathon of 2:59. With a resume including 2006 Ironman Malaysia Champion, Tajsich enjoys racing in the heat. In 2010 Tajsich won Ironman Regensburg and South Africa. In 2011 Tajsich fell short of the top position, finishing second at Ironman Cozumel and in 2012 finished 2nd at Roth. 2013 however has been a little light on the results front, with a 4th place finish at Ironman 70.3 St Polten.