2023 Ironman World Championships Kona Preview
Klemen Suligoj gives us a full breakdown of one of the biggest races of the year
Klemen Suligoj takes us through this weekend’s Ironman World Championships in Kona
Ironman WC Kona 2023 preview
A month ago, men competed in the Ironman World Championship 2023 in Nice, France. First ever Ironman WC outside the USA delivered a fantastic race, full of excitement, and was generally received as an outstanding event. Soon after the dust had settled, the start list for women’s Ironman WC in Kona was released. A stellar list of professional women triathletes promises another spectacular event.
When? The race starts on Saturday, October 14th at 6:25 am local time (18:25 CET, 2:25 am AEDT)
How to watch? The race will be broadcasted live, for free, on Ironman’s Facebook page and on IronmanTri YouTube channel. You can also follow the race by using the Ironman Ticker.
What's the prize money? The total prize purse is 750,000$. The breakdown is as follows:
Who is racing?
Women’s qualifiers are (in order of their start number): Chelsea Sodaro (USA), Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR), Anne Haug (GER), Daniela Ryf (SUI), Taylor Knibb (USA), Laura Philipp (GER), Lisa Norden (SWE), Fenella Langridge (GBR), Sarah Crowley (AUS), Skye Moench (USA), Laura Siddall (GBR), Kat Matthews (GBR), Sarah True (USA), Gurutze Frades (ESP), Kylie Simpson (AUS), Lotte Wilms (NED), Ruth Astle (GBR), Els Visser (NED), Jodie Robertson (USA), Pamela Oliveira (BRA), Rachel Zilinskas (USA), Chloe Lane (AUS), Jocelyn McCauley (USA), Maja Stage Nielsen (DEN), Danielle Lewis (USA),
Rebecca Clarke (NZL), Haley Chura (USA), Svenja Thoes (GER), Radka Kahlefeldt (CZE), Daniela Bleymehl (GER), Barbara Riveros (CHL), Penny Slater (AUS), Susie Cheetham (GBR), Lauren Brandon (USA), Agnieszka Jerzyk (POL), Laura Zimmermann (GER), Laura Jansen (GER), Hannah Berry (NZL), Jeanne Collonge (FRA), Jen Annett (CAN), Melanie McQuaid (CAN), Leonie Konczalla (GER), Fiona Moriarty (IRL), Sara Svensk (SWE), Kate Gillespie-Jones (AUS), Justine Mathieux (FRA), Alex Watt (USA), Sarah Thomas (AUS), Mariana Borges de Andrade (BRA), Hilary Hughes (IRL), Laura Brown (AUS), Carla Dahan (FRA), Manon Genet (FRA), Michelle Vesterby (DEN).
Who dares to doubt Daniela Ryf? Probably not many, especially after her performance in Challenge Roth, where she set the world’s fastest time in an iron-distance event with 8:08:21. She surprised everyone with her swim and came out of the water 2nd, together with Fenella Langridge. She rode away from everyone on the bike and topped her race off with a 2:52 marathon.
After Roth, Daniela got back to training and put all her focus on both Ironman World Championships. Things didn’t go her way in Lahti, where she finished 9th, well below her expectations. She later revealed that she had been dealing with an illness and that tests diagnosed her with post-viral fatigue along with lung irritation.The period after Lahti was hard for Daniela also because her father passed away.
Daniela returned to St. Moritz, where she focused on recovery and building fitness for Kona. After spending time at home, conducting altitude training, she flew to Hawaii in the 2nd half of September to end her preparation block acclimating to race conditions.
From winning after getting stung by a jellyfish, to winning her 5th World title in St. George, after most people wrote her off, the 5 time Ironman World Champion proved so many times in her career that she can overcome any obstacle in her way. She also proved that you should never count her out, and she is certainly one of the main contenders for the win in Kona.
Anne Haug has had a great season so far and she’ll be hoping to finish it off with a good result in Kona. Last year’s bronze medalist won Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote, Challenge Gran Canaria and the PTO European Open, then finished 2nd in Challenge Roth and the PTO Asian Open. She “disappeared” after the race in Singapore, spent a lot of time in Club La Santa in Lanzarote, away from social media and the eyes of the public.
We know Anne is a strong runner, but it seems she elevated her run game even a step further this year. She had the best run in the PTO European Open and Challenge Roth, where she outran Daniela Ryf and Laura Philipp by 6 minutes. Chelsea Sodaro was faster than her in Singapore, albeit by mere 13 seconds. In comparison, in Kona 2022 Sodaro ran 7 minutes faster than Haug.
It will be vital for Anne to swim well and to stay in a strong bike pack so she doesn’t start the run too far behind. How much time can she gain? We know she can gain 5 minutes or more versus athletes like Lucy Charles Barclay, Daniela Ryf and Laura Philipp. It’s hard to evaluate Kat Matthews and Taylor Knibb as Kona rookies, but Sodaro seems to be on Haug’s level. Whatever the outcome, we’re in for an exciting race!
Lucy Charles Barclay
Is 2023 the year of Lucy Charles Barclay? Four podiums in four appearances at Ironman Hawaii is something the vast majority of athletes would accept immediately. But there’s a caveat: Lucy finished 2nd all four times, coming oh-so close to victory, but never managed to grab it. She got run down by Daniela Ryf twice, Anne Haug and Chelsea Sodaro. All of the mentioned athletes (and many others!) will stand beside Lucy on the start line this year, hoping to once again get the best of her.
Lucy’s season didn’t go according to her plans so far. She finished 3rd in the PTO European Open, followed by a 2nd place in Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau. What followed was a foot injury that kept her away from racing and running training for a while. She returned to racing in Singapore, where she finished 5th in the PTO Asian Open. Lucy made it clear that Kona is her main goal of the year and she has been preparing for the race since summer.
The addition of Taylor Knibb to the start list could be hugely beneficial for Lucy. We know she will be in front of the race in the swim, along with other great swimmers like Rebecca Clarke, Lauren Brandon, Taylor Knibb etc. Unlike others, Knibb is not expected to fade away on the bike and could potentially form a strong lead duo with the Brit. This would provide a huge benefit for Lucy, who is usually left alone on the bike and thus at a disadvantage compared to the chase packs. And if the two leave T2 together, Lucy could use experience to her advantage to run away from the American Kona rookie, but will she be able to hold off the other competitors?
Last year’s Kona champion Chelsea Sodaro hasn’t had the best season so far. It looks like the pressure of being a world champion got to her and sort of paralysed her. She hasn’t been able to execute the race she wanted, either because her fitness wasn’t on a top level, or because of other issues (e.g. illness in Challenge Roth). She unexpectedly didn’t start at her home race in the PTO US Open, but achieved a 3rd place in the PTO Asian Open in Singapore.
Chelsea will come to Kona with her confidence high, believing she can replicate last year’s success. She will be hoping to swim as good as she did last year, when she gained 3 minutes versus Anne Haug, Daniela Ryf, Laura Philipp and others. She biked really well and finished the race off with the fastest marathon of the day. She’ll undoubtedly be confident in her running ability and her success ultimately depends on her position in the T2.
Last year, Laura arrived to Kona with great form and high hopes for a world class result. Unfortunately for her, she received a penalty on the bike that set her back 5 minutes from her competitors. Laura didn’t give up and finished 4th, leaving the question “what if” up in the air.
She admitted she felt angry and disappointed after Kona. She focused on securing her 2023 slot early, because she really wanted to race Challenge Roth for the first time, then focus on Kona. She managed to win Ironman South Africa in March and finished 3rd in Challenge Roth, behind Daniela Ryf and Anne Haug. Instead of racing the PTO Tour, Laura raced and won the Ironman 70.3 European Championships in Tallinn and finished 6th in Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Lahti.
She has been focusing on the Ironman World Championships for a while and travelled to Hawaii early, in order to get acclimated to race conditions. She spent a lot of time in Maui, did some testing, made a detailed plan for her Kona preparation and it seems that she stuck to it successfully. Fueled by last year’s setback, Laura will be one to watch until the very end.
Just over a year ago, Kat Matthews was in the USA, preparing for her first appearance at the Ironman World Championship in Kona. Then, a tragic accident occurred, and left Kat not only without her Kona appearance, but with life threatening injuries and her future career in doubt.
What followed was an extraordinary story of overcoming obstacles and returning back to the world triathlon scene. Kat opened the season with 3rd place in class field at 70.3 Oceanside, won Ironman Texas, placed 7th in the PTO US Open and recently finished at the runner-up spot in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Lahti, only behind Taylor Knibb.
As a Kona rookie, Kat could easily be written off the list of favourites for the win. However, we saw last year that one can perform well on the Big island even in their first appearance, and if there’s an athlete that can do it, it’s Kat. Not many have the grit, determination and resilience like her. Paired with meticulous preparation, you have a recipe for a champion. Can Kat turn the recipe into reality?
You simply can’t write a list of favorites without including Taylor Knibb, albeit this will be her first full distance Ironman race of her career. Taylor is a woman in form and she has shown that numerous times this season, lastly in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Lahti.
Many say you can’t win as a Kona rookie, even more so as an Ironman rookie, but these claims were proven wrong in the past. Taylor has the engine to contend for the win, you can be sure about that. I’m also pretty confident she focused on Kona specific training in the weeks after the 70.3 World Championships. You can’t however overlook the specifics of the race in Kona, from the weather, the course to race nutrition.
I believe Taylor will start the race strong, being in the front or near it in the swim. I also expect her to show her cycling power and quite possibly lead the race leaving the T2. The run is where the wheels might fall off the wagon for Taylor. Although I think she will finish in one of the top spots, I believe the inexperience will play a factor and Taylor won’t contend for the win in the end.