There isn’t much argument here on the Big Island that this is a momentous occasion for the sport – all of the world’s top full-distance athletes are here to compete on Saturday. As far as we know the top contenders are all healthy, and there’s a decent argument that there are a number of women who have a legitimate shot to take the win on Saturday. Many of those were on hand for today’s press conference. The main message from that? Picking the winner ahead of the race is pretty much impossible – you truly need to offer up a list of potential champions rather than one definitive favourite.
The 2022 Ironman World Champion has struggled for much of 2023 – the highlights of her year so far are a runner-up finish at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside and is a third-place finish at the PTO Asian Open. That hardly should suggest that Sodaro won’t be one to watch on Saturday. Last year’s race in Kona was only her second Ironman, and she heads into her third with more experience and the confidence that she can win here.
The four-time runner-up here in Kona is coming back from an early-season foot injury, but don’t think that makes her any less of a threat for the win on Saturday.
“I try not to think about (coming fourth four years in a row) too much,”she said. “Every race here has been so different. I’ve always had to push really hard at the end.”
The 40-year-old 2019 Ironman world champion has looked super-fit all year and was unstoppable at the PTO European Championship in Ibiza, then was runner-up to Daniela Ryf for her groundbreaking day in Roth. Renowned as a strong runner, Haug is a good cyclist, too,
“There’s a lot of potential here to run sub-2:50,” she said. “It all depends how the race evolves. If you jump off the bike a bit fresher than normal, then it’s possible.”
The five-time Ironman and 70.3 world champion obliterated the world-best full-distance time at Challenge Roth, but was not anywhere near as strong for the 70.3 worlds in Lahti. Who knows if we’ll see the “Roth” or “Lahti” version of Ryf in Kona this weekend as she looks to join a select club of athletes who have earned 6 Ironman World titles – her countrywoman Natascha Badmann, Dave Scott and Mark Allen. (Paula Newby-Fraser has eight, of course.)
“I try not to think about that too much – it would be amazing to join that club,” she said. “What’s more important is to have a race I can be proud of. That’s what I hope for – to be able to go hard, to finish first against these amazing ladies. Each race is like a picture and you want to create the perfect picture.”
After a terrible accident last fall just weeks before the world championship in Kona, the St. George world championship runner up has overcome her injuries to finally get the chance for her Kona debut on Saturday. She returns after some impressive races, including the win at Ironman Texas and a runner-up finish in Lahti.
Matthews was quick to point out that she was 4:30 behind winner Taylor Knibb in Lahti, but that second in Finland signals that she truly is back near the top of her game and will likely be a factor here.
The two-time 70.3 world champ has also qualified for her second Olympics, and is here in Kona both to win and to possibly prepare for a go at the 2025 championship. Fearful the days of Kona are numbered, Knibb wants to make sure she has a chance to experience the Big Island, even though she’s gearing up for Paris next year.
Which hardly means she’s not one to watch for the win here. All eyes will be on the American star – she’s proven she is one of the sport’s premier cyclists and both times she’s raced Daniela Ryf she’s soundly beaten the Swiss star. Sure, that’s over shorter distances, but remember that Knibb posted the fastest bike split at the 2021 Collins Cup … on a road bike.
“It felt right – this race is the reason I started this sport,” Knibb said of the decision to race here. “What challenges arise and how you overcome them – that’s a measure of success for me.”
Knibb will be competing alongside her mother, who is a multiple Kona podium age group finisher.
“It’s not a passing of the torch, but in a way it is,” Knibb said.
The German star has finished fourth twice here, but she’s won every other full-distance race she’s done. That includes the Ironman African Championship from earlier this year.
Last year Philipp got a drafting penalty which sidelined her chance for a higher finish. She’s learned from that experience, though, and is determined not to get in that position again, but is ready for it if it does happen.
“It was my first one and my first experience (getting a penalty),” she said. “Now I know it can happen, but I’m better prepared.”
The 2012 Olympic silver medalist was fifth here last year and arrives in Kona after an impressive win at her home-country race in Kalmar.
“I was a bit doubtful on how I would recover, but I’m coming off a very good training block back home,” she said.
The Australian enjoyed a stellar 2022 with wins at all three Ironman races in Australia, but this year has been a bit of a struggle, especially after a bike accident in which she broke a few ribs. Things have been on the up for the two-time podium finisher here in Kona.
“It’s been one of the hardest periods of times in my career,” she said, “but the last eight weeks has been super positive.”
A runner-up finish at Ironman 70.3 Cozumel signals Crowley is rounding into form at just the right time for another go at the podium here on the Big Island.
The reigning Ironman Europe Championship champion, True is juggling motherhood, a PhD and a pro triathlon career – no easy feat.
“We went into this year not knowing how I could balance things outside of sport,” she said, describing the research paper that’s due the day before the race and the two-year-old waiting back at her condo.
“My schedule is more similar to the other amateur athletes here,” she said. “It is possible to do Ironman and be a working mom. It does mean asking your partner for help. It means lots of early hours. It means doing more with less time.”