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Currie and Wells tops in Taupo at all-kiwi Ironman New Zealand

Ironman racing returns in New Zealand despite three-week postponment

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

Here in Canada we’re looking pretty enviously at the state of play in New Zealand. Lauded around the world as an example of how to both prevent and respond to COVID-19, after 103 days of stay at home orders last year the country declared the pandemic over and life in New Zealand has returned to much closer to normal than we’re experiencing.

That doesn’t mean that it’s been completely smooth sailing in New Zealand. Earlier this month Ironman New Zealand had to be postponed because of some new positive cases which put much of the country into “Alert Level 2,” which barred events of over 100 people.

Racing got underway today, though, and while the pro fields were small and consisted only of New Zealand athletes, there were some impressive performances.

Currie returns to the top of the podium

The 2017 Ironman New Zealand champ is certainly the most decorated full-distance Kiwi over the last few years, with a couple of Ironman Asia-Pacific titles to his name along with fifth- and seventh-place finishes at the Ironman World Championship.

This season, though, up-and-coming star Kyle Smith has had Currie’s number the last two times they’ve met, with Smith setting course records and beating Currie to the line at the Tauranga half and Challenge Wanaka. Currie was only 13-seconds back in Wanaka, though, setting the stage for a big day in Taupo.

As he has done routinely during the New Zealand race season, Smith blasted through the swim, coming out of the water just under a minute up on Currie. By the half-way point of the ride, though, it had become a three-man race with Currie and 2019 champ Mike Phillips joining Smith at the front.

The three hit T2 together, but Currie quickly made his move on the marathon, opening up 20 seconds on Phillips starting the run and leaving Smith 47 seconds behind as he ventured out on his first marathon.

There was no touching Currie, though, as he finished the race with a blazing 2:40:47 marathon to cross the line in 7:57:13, just under three-minutes off of Joe Skipper’s record-setting performance from a year ago. Phillips took second for the second year in a row (8:06:39), while Smith made an impressive debut by rounding out the podium in 8:08:54.

Hannah Wells takes the women’s pro title at Challenge Wanaka. Photo: Neil Kerr and Integrity Homes Challange Wanaka

Wells’ impressive debut

Dr. Hannah Wells (she has a PhD in Biotech Engineering) has been ripping through half-distance courses down under for the last few years. In 2019 she went unbeaten, taking Challenge Wanaka, Ironman 70.3s in Western Sydney, Sunshine Coast and Taupo, while also winning the Auckland Marathon. Last year she was second at Challenge Wanaka, but did manage to win Ironman 70.3 Geelong before the racing shut down due to the pandemic. Last month she set herself up for the big day in Taupo by winning Challenge Wanaka by almost 10 minutes.

Since defending champ Teresa Adam had to pull out of the race due to illness, Wells arrived in Taupo as the prohibitive women’s favourite and she lived up to that billing in style.

Rebecca Clarke led out of the water by over five minutes, but Wells patiently worked her way up to the front by the halfway point of the bike and never looked back. Starting the run her lead was up to seven minutes on Clarke with the other two pro women in the field well back.

Wells continued to open the gap through the marathon, eventually running a 3:10 split to cross the line in 9:01:50. That wasn’t close to Adam’s record-setting 8:40 from a year ago, but was still more than enough to take the day. Clarke would hang on for second (9:15:39) while another full-distance rookie, Emily McNaughton, would round out the podium (9:38:43).