The two top men’s seeds at this weekend’s Ironman Arizona event couldn’t have had more different experiences at their last race, The Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George, Utah. Ben Kanute earned a second silver medal at the championships (to go along with the one he won in Chattanooga in 2017), while Sam Long (pictured above), who finished second at the event in 2021, got a five minute penalty that effectively put him out of contention.
The two Americans will certainly be stretched to take the Arizona title this weekend, though, considering the athletes they’ll be taking on, including the man that Thorsten Radde from Trirating.com considers to be the man to beat, Great Britain’s Joe Skipper. Skipper was fifth at the Ironman World Championship last month, won Ironman Wales earlier this year and routinely racks up a few Ironman wins ever year – last yer he won the UK and Chattanooga Ironman races to go along with a runner-up finish at Ironman Switzerland.
The list of contenders continues with American Matt Hanson, a three-time winner of the Ironman North American Championship in Texas and the Ironman Des Moines champ from earlier this year. Fellow American Chris Leiferman is a former winner of Ironman Mont-Tremblant (along with a number of other Ironman titles) who came fourth at the Ironman World Championship St. George in May. Denmark’s Kristian Hogenhaug won the World Triathlon Long Distance title last year in Almere, flying to an impressive 7:37:46 finish – in other words, flat, windy and fast courses suit him just fine. Other names to keep an eye on include American Justin Metzler and South Africa’s Kyle Buckingham, who won the Ironman South Africa title earlier this year.
The big-name contenders will all likely find themselves chasing Kanute, though – traditionally Skipper, Long and Hanson are weaker swimmers who make up time on their rivals once they hit dry land. Kanute, one of the sports strongest swimmers, likes to use that to his advantage and stay out ahead of his competition. He might find some company in the form of Hogenhaug, though, which would likely be a welcome way to approach his first full-distance race. While it is his first go at the distance, Kanute, who lives in Phoenix, will definitely have the “home field” advantage and will have lots of support out on the course.
Long will arrive in Arizona with more than a little motivation after the disappointment of the day in St. George last month, which should make for some interesting racing on Sunday.
Moench takes on True
American Skye Moench ended up winning the Ironman European Championship in 2019 when countrywoman Sarah True collapsed with just a few hundred metres to go at the race. Then, as she looked to follow up on that performance and prove that she was amongst the sport’s to full-distance athletes, she was hit by a car as she prepared for Kona. Once she came back, though, she’s enjoyed lots of success, including full-distance wins in Chattanooga (2021) and Des Moines (2022), along with podium finishes at Ironman Tulsa (third) and Florida (second) last year. She was the top American finisher at the Ironman World Championship St. George in May (she was fourth) and the second American across the line in Kona (ninth, with countrywoman Chelsea Sodaro taking the win).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, True had her first child, Haakon, and is somehow balancing being a new mom with work on a doctorate in clinical psychology. She made a triumphant return to racing in June with a win at Ironman 70.3 Eagleman, then followed that up with an impressive win at Ironman Lake Placid in July. In Kona, though, she was suffering from an upper respiratory infection and had to pull out.
All eyes will be on those two this weekend, but there are lots of other women who could certainly contend for a podium, or for the win, for that matter, if the two favourites aren’t on their game. Super-swimmer Lauren Brandon (USA) had a tough day in Kona and also DNF’d, so she’ll be motivated for a big day. Like Kanute she’ll want to use her swimming prowess to get clear and then hold off the field, but that will be a tough ask with the likes of True and Moench chasing hard. Great Britain’s Lydia Dant, the Ironman Lanzarote champion from earlier this year, will be another to keep an eye on.
One of the Canadians in the field is Penticton’s Jen Annett, fresh off a 19th-place finish in Kona and two runner-up finishes in her last two Ironman races in Mont-Tremblant and Des Moines. Another is Victoria’s Mel McQuaid, the three-time Xterra world champion who, at the age of 49, is enjoying a stellar season that includes a fifth-place finish at Ironman Lake Placid and a third at Ironman Wisconsin. The other Canadian pro registered is Ottawa’s Robyn Hardage, who finished ninth at Ironman Arizona in 2018.