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Some big names won’t be at Kona this year: Here’s why

The 50 men and 30 women who will toe the pro start lines in Kona next month have been decided, but there are a couple big names noticeably absent this year. As part of our pre-race Kona 2016 coverage, we’ve rounded up the names of those who won’t be racing on the Big Island this year — here’s why they’ll be sitting out.

Liz Blatchford — didn’t validate

Last year’s third place finisher won’t be trying to improve upon her career-best Kona finish this year because of a foot injury that set her back in her season earlier this year. While she was practically guaranteed a spot based on her position in the rankings provided she finished a full Ironman this year, the injury caused her to cancel her start at Ironman Cairns and Ironman Mont-Tremblant.

Caroline Steffen — focusing on the 70.3 distance 

Many were surprised to hear that Bahrain Endurance’s Caroline Steffen wouldn’t be targeting Kona this year, despite her fantastic track record at the race and strong resume of recent results. The Swiss athlete placed ninth last year on the Big Island and felt it was time to stop travelling so much and focus on racing locally in the Asia-Pacific region where she’s based right now. She is expected to return to the Big Island in 2017 and be a serious podium contender

Rachel Joyce — gave birth this year

Last year’s runner-up, Britain’s Rachel Joyce, gave birth to her first child this year so she has taken a hiatus from racing. She says she will now resume training and racing and it’s very likely we’ll see her at Kona in 2017.

Beth Gerdes — declined 

USA’s Beth Gerdes placed 15th in Kona last year after a long, hard season of racing to secure her spot. Though she won Ironman Switzerland this year, she again found herself only on the cusp of qualifying this year. She initially accepted her spot, but later announced on her blog that she would be forced to decline it for health reasons.

“Just as I was hopeful that things were starting to pick up again, I got another doozy. I have a pretty large cyst that needs to be removed with a minor surgery. As it is in the ‘saddle region’- no cycling for 4 to 6 weeks. Just under 10 weeks out from Kona, that’s a deal-breaker for me, especially on top of all the other things I have going on right now. So, although I accepted a July qualification spot, I am returning that slot to another deserving woman.”

Angela Naeth — not enough points due to injury 

Canada was excited to have a promising long course female with a legitimate shot at the Kona podium such as Naeth make her Big Island debut last year, but unfortunately the 2015 North American champ didn’t have the race she was hoping for. A foot injury forced her to DNF and just as she was on the road to recovery this winter, the surgery she got after Kona got infected and set her out of racing even longer this year. Naeth is finally back to full training and will be racing some half distance races later this year. A natural at the full distance, she hopes to make a strong comeback and head to Kona in 2017 so she can finally target the world title.

Chris Leiferman — declined

USA’s Chris Leiferman surprised everyone when he won Ironman Mont-Tremblant, and though his chances of qualifying for Kona weren’t looking good before that race he quickly shot up the rankings and earned himself a spot. He ultimately decided not to take it though, citing it not “part of the plans.” Leiferman says he wants more experience at the full distance before he makes the expensive trip out to Kona.

Jeff Symonds — not enough points due to injury 

Symonds definitely has a talent for the full distance and is one of Canada’s most promising male athletes for a good Kona placing in years to come. However, the Challenge Penticton champ won’t be racing there this year as he too had an unfortunate early season that meant he wouldn’t earn enough points. A broken forearm meant he couldn’t get in the training he needed and target the major races he had his eye on. Watch our recent video with Symonds where he discusses his injury and comeback here.