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Olympic star looks to shine at 2024 70.3 worlds in hometown

Kiwi Hayden Wilde won Ironman 70.3 Melbourne by almost eight minutes

It’s not that anyone didn’t anticipate the guy would be good at the half distance. When you’re an Olympic bronze medalist considered to have a “weaker” swim and spend a lot of your time hammering through the field on the bike, you’re likely to adapt well to non-drafting events. Add to that some impressive running ability and you have the makings of a great 70.3 competitor. And, there’s a reason we put the “weaker” in quotes – the guy still swims pretty darn fast, just not as fast as some of the other speedsters on the World Tri scene.

But, did anyone anticipate he’d be this good? Hayden Wilde rolled into Ironman 70.3 Melbourne last weekend in the hunt for a qualifying spot for the 2024 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in his hometown of Taupo, New Zealand. It’s pretty much the only race that he could qualify at – from here on in he’ll be focussed on trying to move up a couple of spots on the podium at the Paris Games next summer. He did the famed Noosa Triathlon the week before, winning that in impressive style, then followed that up by dominating in Melbourne.

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The almost-eight-minute win was likely helped a bit when the swim was shortened by half (to 900 m) due to strong winds at the start on St. Kilda Beach, but it’s still hard to believe just how dominant the Kiwi was. While runner-up Nick Thompson and third-place Steve McKenna aren’t exactly household names here in North America, they do have some impressive results on their resumes. Thompson is a new pro who took 70.3 Sunshine Coast earlier this year and McKenna was the defending champion in Melbourne and won Ironman Australia earlier this year and followed that up with a runner-up finish to Braden Currie at Ironman Cairns.

Wilde competed in his second 70.3 in style (he was third at Ironman 70.3 Taupo in 2019), leading from start to finish. If you’re not impressed with the field that he beat, his bike and run splits should be enough to show that he’s certainly one to watch in Taupo next year.

Photo: Sportograf

“I feel real good, there were a few ups and downs this morning with what the swim was going to be like but I think the organisation made the right call and I’m stoked that we got to get wet which was lovely, it was actually still a pretty hard swim out there, it was pretty rough,” Wilde said after the race. “It wasn’t the fastest swim, but it was nice and I was stoked to lead out of the swim. For me I wanted to apply pressure through transition and that first 20 km of the bike. I turned around and had a pretty healthy gap and I thought, while I’m here I might as well keep pushing and see what I can do. My goal was to ride sub two hours and to ride a 1:56 I was really happy with.”

“I had a four minute lead off the bike and coming onto the run the coach said we’re not here to prove points or anything, we’re just here to qualify and get the job done,”Wilde continued. “For the first 10 km I pushed it at a 3:05 pace and from there I eased up and I was kind of stoked that no-one was around because at the 15km mark the legs started to hurt a little bit and so I shut it down and I’m stoked to have crossed the line here in Melbourne and get the qualification spot for Taupō next year.”

Running 1:08:01 after “shutting down” is impressive. Wilde is making it clear that he intends to roll into long-distance racing as a record-breaker.

After a year that saw Wilde have to pull out of the Paris Test Event due to injury, then struggle with other mishaps through the year, the Kiwi is thrilled to finish the year on a high.

“It’s been a great season, I’ve had a few ups and downs and a few mishaps but it’s really nice to finish off here winning Noosa last week, winning in Melbourne and I’m proper stoked to finish off the year on a high,” he said. “I ticked all of the boxes to finish the year that I wanted to, winning Noosa with a course record, I was gutted that we didn’t get to do the full swim course because legitimately I can’t take the course record here but I’ll have to come back another year and try and take it, mission accomplished, time to put the feet up and get onto a flight to Fiji for a week.”

Watkinson wins in the final kilometre

Photo: Alex Polizzi

While Wilde was running away with the men’s race, it wasn’t until the final 1 km that another Kiwi, 70.3 veteran Amelia Watkinson, was able to finally move into the lead and take the win in Melbourne. Watkinson was still recovering from a bout of COVID when she competed in Noosa the previous week, but bounced back to take the win over Australian Olympic hopeful Natalie Van Coevorden despite trailing by three minutes after the swim.

“I really had to dig deep for that one but to be honest it’s more satisfying when that’s the case, I’m really happy with the performance and thank you to the other girls for making it a good race,” Watkinson said. “There was a little bit of anticipation this morning with weather conditions, the swim was shortened a little bit, I don’t know what the time was, it was still pretty cold and choppy out there which is definitely a weak point of mine so I had to quickly change my mindset and get through that. The deficit was certainly more than I would have hoped for, in some ways I expected that and I knew it was going to be a solid opportunity to push the bike and run.”

“I think there were four girls ahead of me when we hit the run,” Watkinson continued. “I got a few splits, I think it was close to a minute and a half, I knew that two of those girls were short course athletes and definitely recall from being new to the longer distance that around 15 to 18km is when it really hits you. I had some patience and kept on digging and I don’t think I got Nat until about a k to go and I didn’t look over my shoulder until the finish line.”

Ironman 70.3 Melbourne – Professional Men’s Results

  1. Hayden Wilde – 3:19:29
  2. Nick Thompson – 3:27:28
  3. Steve McKenna – 3:27:54
  4. Matt Burton – 3:28:54
  5. Sam Osborne – 3:30:21
  6. Nicholas Free – 3:32:11
  7. Kieran Storch – 3:33:29
  8. Jye Spriggs – 3:36:49
  9. Calvin Amos – 3:40:09
  10. Harry Wiles – 3:40:50

Ironman 70.3 Melbourne – Professional Women’s Results

  1. Amelia Watkinson – 3:53:30
  2. Natalie Van Coevorden – 3:54:10
  3. Lotte Wilms – 3:55:15
  4. Hanne De Vet – 3:58:35
  5. Aleisha Wesley – 4:04:17
  6. Deborah Fuller – 4:05:12
  7. Sophie Perry – 4:06:11
  8. Laura Armstrong – 4:07:53
  9. Samantha Kingsford – 4:09:44
  10. Melanie Daniels – 4:11:42