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Chelsea Sodaro wins Ironman World Championship in Kona debut

After a thrilling day of racing, Sodaro took home the win thanks to a spectacular 2:51:45 marathon

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

The Ironman World Championships returned to Kona for the first time since 2019 on Thursday, with the pro women kicking off the weekend of racing. The women did not disappoint, putting on a day full of action from start to finish. Chelsea Sodaro took the win in 8:33:46, earning her first world title. For the fourth straight time in Kona, Lucy Charles-Barclay of the U.K. finished in second, and Germany’s Anne Haug rounded out the podium in third.

The swim

It didn’t come as a surprise to anyone when Charles-Barclay exited the water in first place. Charles-Barclay has now led out of the water in all four of her pro appearances in Kona, and while she couldn’t beat her own swim course record of 48:14 (which she set in 2018), her time of 50:57 gave her a 40-second lead over the chase pack. This group featured four women, including American Lauren Brandon and Charles-Barclay’s compatriot Fenella Langridge, who was racing in Kona for the first time.

Sodaro came out of the water in good position, just 3:50 back of Charles-Barclay. Pre-race favourites Daniela Ryf of Switzerland and Haug finished the swim well after Charles-Barclay, both exiting the water with a seven-minute gap to overcome.

Lucy Charles-Barclay leads out of the water. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

The bike

Heading out of T1, Langridge (who was in fifth out of the water) made up a significant amount of time, passing the other three members of the chase group and cutting Charles-Barclay’s lead down to 28 seconds. Langridge quickly erased the rest of that gap, and the head of the race stayed the same for almost the entire ride, as she and Charles-Barclay exchanged leads until the final 10K. It was at this point that a charging Ryf passed the two Brits to take over at the front of the race.

When Ryf made the pass, it looked as though she would fly away from her two competitors and take a commanding lead into T2, but Charles-Barclay wouldn’t let her go. Ryf did eventually manage to put a bit of a gap between herself and Charles-Barclay, but by T2, her lead was only 17 seconds. As Langridge made her way into T2, she had fallen to a minute behind Ryf. Sodaro finished the bike leg in fifth place.

Daniela Ryf used a powerful ride to take the lead heading into T2. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

The run

Ryf seemed to come out of nowhere to steal the lead from Charles-Barclay on the bike. When they hit the run course, Charles-Barclay wasted no time doing the same to Ryf, making the pass in the first few hundred metres. Charles-Barclay continued to power forward, and soon enough she was well ahead of Ryf. While the only two athletes being discussed after T2 were Ryf and Charles-Barclay, the conversation quickly shifted to Sodaro, who set out at a blistering pace. She started the run 3:21 behind Ryf, but by 9K, she had passed the five-time champ and set her sights on first place. Just over three kilometres later, Sodaro charged by Charles-Barclay.

Sodaro on the run course in Kona. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

From that point on, it was all Sodaro. She still had around 30K to go, but she didn’t let her inexperience in Kona (or in iron-distance races in general, as this was only the second Ironman of her career) stop her from running her own race. She carried on, laying down impressive split after impressive split, and somewhere between the half-marathon checkpoint and 35K, it became clear to anyone watching that she was not going to lose the race. Sodaro crossed the line in 8:33:46, becoming the first American to win in Kona since Paula Newby-Fraser in 1996.

In the battle for second place, Haug made it interesting for a while, coming within 20 seconds of Charles-Barclay, but the Brit found another gear late in the run and held onto second. She crossed the line in 8:41:37 to take second place in Kona for the fourth straight time. Yet another near miss will likely sting for Charles-Barclay, but considering that she was dealing with a stress fracture in her hip just six months ago, this is an undeniably impressive result. Haug finished just after Charles-Barclay, grabbing the final spot on the podium in 8:42:22.