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4 Takeaways from Ironman South Africa

Bike for show, run for dough and other lessons from the Ironman African Championship

Photo by: Ironman Europe Instagram

As the Ironman African Championship, the full-distance event in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, offers a larger prize purse ($150,000) and more qualifying slots (four men’s and women’s pro slots and 75 men’s and 65 women’s age group slots for Nice and Kona) than other Ironman races. Here are some of the takeaways from yesterday’s racing:

Organizers can’t buy a break when it comes to the swim

The last time they had a full swim at the Ironman African Championship was in 2018. In 2019 rough water conditions forced organizers to do a one-loop, 1.9 km swim, and that happened again when the race returned at the end of 2021. Last year “choppy” water conditions forced organizers to shorten the swim to 700 m, then this year the threat of a storm forced the swim to be cut down to 900 m.

To get an idea of how rough the water was in 2021, check out this video from Effortless Swimming:

Laura Philipp has to be considered a Kona favourite


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The only Ironman Laura Philipp has entered and not won is Kona. She won her first Ironman race in 2018 in Barcelona in a screaming fast 8:34:57, took fourth in her Kona debut in 2019, won Ironman Finland (8:50:54) and Ironman Austria (8:42:56) in 2021, won Ironman Hamburg last year in 8:18:20 (just seven seconds off Chrissie Wellington’s world best time) and then took fourth after receiving a penalty in Kona last year. The German now adds the South Africa title (8:01:58), finishing the day with the second-fastest swim (behind Fenella Langridge), along with the day’s fastest bike and run.

Last year Philipp would have arrived in St. George as one of the pre-race favourites, but got COVID just before she was to leave for the US. It’s early days into the 2023 season, but Philipp has to be considered one of the women to beat in Kona this year – assuming she can get there healthy and navigate the Queen K biking madness.

Podium drama

Third-place finisher, France’s Justine Mathieux, was disqualified after crossing the line in third. Obviously devastated after the DQ, Mathieux described the penalty as an “injustice” on her Instagram page, which cost her the $9,000 check and Kona slot the third-place finish would have earned her. After leading the chase pack for much or the race and hitting T2 in second place, Mathieux did serve her penalty, but during the run rather than on the bike, which led to the DQ. Here’s the statement we received from Ironman:

“Justine Mathieux was issued a penalty on the bike course by a referee for an incomplete pass. Justine failed to serve the penalty on the bike course, but instead served the penalty mid-way through the run leg which led to her being disqualified. Justine was not immediately stopped as athletes are entitled to complete the entire course, and lodge an appeal post-race.”

It’s not clear whether or not Mathieux has, in fact, appealed – we’ll updated this story if she did, or even could, appeal that type of call.

Bike for show, run for dough (and world championship slots)


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After riding for his pro cycling team, Ineos Grenadiers, at the UAE Tour during the last week of February, super-cyclist Cam Wurf had a great swim, finishing just 19-seconds back of swim leader Andrea Salvisberg, then posted the day’s fastest bike split to lead the way into transition. He was just 40 seconds up on France’s Leon Chevalier, though, who surged to  the lead within a few kilometres and never looked back as he took his second Ironman title (he won in Mallorca in 2021).

Wurf would run a 3:03 marathon (before you even think anything negative, ask yourself how fast you’d run the week aftertri helping your team at a World Tour cycling event), which wasn’t enough to keep him in the top four. He would eventually take fifth, missing the valuable Nice qualifying spot by one place.

You’ll find results from the race here.