Heather Wurtele is our Women’s Long Distance Triathlete of the Year
Heather Wurtele retired on top, while Angela Naeth and Jen Annett received honourable mentions for their long-distance exploits in 2020.
After a stellar career that included three-straight 70.3 world championship podiums, Heather Wurtele retired last fall, but not before she rounded out her resume with a big win at Ironman Canada.
by James Sutherland
Heather Wurtele leaves on top
In what turned out to be the final one of her career, Heather Wurtele had a year she won’t soon forget.
Wurtele, who has raced as a professional since 2007, had a pair of wins and three additional podium finishes in 2019, capping 12 years of marked excellence and consistency in the sport.
A native of Vernon, B.C., Wurtele started the year off in March at the Ironman 70.3 event in Campeche, Mexico, winning for the third straight time in a tight race with American Jacalyn Hering.
The 40-year-old Wurtele followed that up by placing third at the Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship in St. George, second at 70.3 Victoria, and another third at 70.3 Coeur d’Alene across the months of May and June.
Then in July, Wurtele won Ironman Canada for the first time in what was the final edition of the event in Whistler, B.C. She raced from the front all day, and built a big enough lead on the bike to comfortably hold off fellow Canadian Jen Annett to win by seven minutes.
Wurtele’s husband, Trevor, won the race the first year it moved to Whistler in 2013. The event will return to its roots in 2020, moving back to Penticton where it had been held from 1983 to 2012.
The win in Whistler was the seventh full-distance title of her career, and first since 2014, earning her a spot at the Ironman World Championship in October that she would decline.
A few months later, right around the time of the race in Kona, the couple announced they were retiring from the professional side of the sport after 12 years.
In addition to her seven Ironman victories, Wurtele finishes her career with 25 half-distance wins, three 70.3 World Championship podiums, and an eighth-place finish in Kona in 2011 to her name.
Angela Naeth – Following her eighth-place finish at the 2018 Ironman World Championships while battling Lyme disease, Angela Naeth saw her symptoms return, forcing her to alter her approach to coming into the 2019 season.
Despite struggling mentally heading into the race, Naeth dove back into competition at 70.3 Gulf Coast in May, placing seventh. She would finish eighth at 70.3 Chattanooga just one week later, but then faced some more adversity as she broke her wrist in a bike crash. Two surgeries later she was back racing in Ironman Canada, but crashed out.
Not deterred, the 37-year-old then took fourth at Ironman Copenhagen in August, fifth at 70.3 Santa Cruz at the beginning of September, and then had a defiant win at Ironman Chattanooga at the end of the month. Despite failing to qualify for Kona this year, her win in Tennessee assured her spot on the Big Island in 2020.
Jen Annett – 34-year-old Jen Annett had another solid season with a trio of podium finishes.
The Penticton, B.C., native took 10th at the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship in St. George in May before back-to-back third-place finishes at 70.3 Victoria and the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt in June.
In July, she equalled her best-ever finish in a full-distance event at Ironman Canada, placing second to Wurtele with a quick 3:12 run split that was tops in the field.
Annett appeared to be on track for a great day in Kona, but was cut off by a motorcycle early on in the bike and would eventually have to pull out of the race because of the injuries she sustained from the crash.