Which was more impressive? Kat Matthews’ sub-8 or Laura Philipp’s 8:18?
Women's long-distance racing saw three incredible performances on the weekendPhoto by: Alexander Scheuber/ Getty Images for Ironman
It was quite the weekend for women’s long-distance racing, for sure. While much of the attention was focussed on the Sub7/ Sub8 Project at the Dekra Lausitzring race track in Germany, where Kat Matthews broke the eight-hour barrier with lots of time to spare, about 400 km northeast of that action Ironman was hosting the women’s European Championship in Hamburg. Laura Philipp blasted to a new Ironman record at that race (photo above), missing Chrissie Wellington’s world-best full-distance time by just seven seconds with her 8:18:20 finish.
There was lots of attention paid to the Sub8 effort that Matthews and Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig embarked on, and deservedly so – it was an ambitious endeavour and both had impressive performances. It’s a shame, though, that the event ended up overshadowing one of the most impressive full-distance performance’s we’ve seen in over a decade.
Wellington’s time (8:18:13) remains the fastest full-distance race on record, and has stood since 2011. She set the mark at Challenge Roth, where a year before she’d gone exactly one minute slower. There’s a reason Wellington remains a legend in the sport – she was never beaten at a full-distance race during a short career that saw her win four Ironman World Championship titles.
While no one expected Philipp to come so close to Wellington’s time, we actually should have been expecting a big day from the German. Philipp made her Ironman debut in Barcelona in 2018 (8:46:30) after going unbeaten in five 70.3 races that year. In 2019 she only raced three times, winning 70.3 Marbella and a short-course race in Germany before coming fourth at the Ironman World Championship. Last year she won Ironman Finland (8:50:54) and Ironman Austria (8:42:56), and this year she beat Daniela Ryf at Ironman 70.3 Dubai, won Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau last weekend, then flew to the win in Hamburg on Sunday. Had she not come down with COVID a couple of weeks out from the Ironman World Championship St. George she would have arrived as one of the pre-race favourites. So, heading into Hamburg she was fit, rested and very motivated to prove that she would have been in the mix in Utah had she been able to race.
The Hamburg course has always been considered fast, but until Philipp blasted that time, it wasn’t considered that fast. Laura Zimmerman won the race last year in 8:54:30, while previous winners Susie Cheetham (2019) and Daniela Bleymehl (2017) went 8:58:02 and 9:07:49. Philipp didn’t even have any company during the race – while she was able to sit on Chelsea Sodaro’s feet for the swim, she quickly dropped the field on the bike and was riding solo from there on in. (And, in case you’re thinking she might have some men to pace off, the race in Hamburg had pro women only – the men compete for the European Championship in Frankfurt at the end of the month.)
Related: Matthews smashes Sub8
While Philipp was completing that race, Matthews and two-time Olympic medalist Nicola Spirig were ripping through the paced Sub8 event, enjoying the benefits of pacers for all three legs. Matthews would end up being first to the line, finishing the event in 7:31:54, well under the eight-hour barrier that defined the event. Spirig’s charge to the front stalled with about 11 km to go, but it was nothing short of incredible that the 40-year-old mother of three would finish the day in 7:34:19. Four months ago she suffered a broken collar bone and other injuries, but somehow managed to come back in time to be a force at the race.
The bottom line is that last Sunday was a huge day for women’s full-distance racing. Kat Matthews and Nicola Spirig put on an incredible show that helped bring some attention to the sport. In terms of outstanding performances, though, Laura Philipp showed that she is very much a force to be reckoned with in the long-distance triathlon world, adding her name to an ever-growing list of big names who are pushing the limits of the sport.