Of the 36 women racing in the Ironman World Championship this weekend, 12 of them are American, three times more than any other country (Great Britain and Germany each have four athletes). That’s up from nine Americans out of 31 total pro women last year. This is the first year that the Kona Pro Rankings have allowed for 35 women to qualify, versus 30 the last two years (the pro men have 50 qualifying slots, and any world champions from the last five years, reigning 70.3 worlds champion or Hy-Vee winners who’ve validated don’t count toward the total number of Kona slots).
Here’s a breakdown of the 12 American pro women, which includes a whole crop of first- and second-year pros, and how they’ll stack up in Kona.
Mary Beth Ellis
After a fifth-place finish on the Big Island in 2012, Ellis has been considered the best U.S. hope (men or women) for a Kona crown this year. Since her Kona debut in 2011, she’s racked up multiple Ironman victories and remains undefeated at the iron distance outside of Kona. This season, she still added two wins to her résumé—Ironman France and Ironman Mont-Tremblant—despite a plantar fascia injury early in the season, getting bitten by a rabid dog while training, and crashing during Ironman France. However, in her final block of Kona prep with her teamTBB teammates in Cozumel less than a month ago, she crashed and broke her collarbone and tore several ligaments. She had surgery and is undergoing physical therapy, and hopes to make the start, but without being at 100 percent, her chances of winning the title are slim, though we’re sure we’ll see a gutsy performance from her.
Despite never logging a top-10 finish in Hawaii, Kessler has been widely considered the next best American hope in Kona, having won competitive Ironman and 70.3 races in difficult conditions over the last few years. This season, she won the early-season Ironman New Zealand, the competitive Ironman 70.3 U.S. Pro Championship in St. George, 70.3 Vineman and 70.3 Lake Stevens. She’s had an unlucky last two seasons, with bike crashes causing concussions and breaking vertebrae, but she bounced back this season for a seventh-place finish at the Hy-Vee 5150 Elite Cup in early September and didn’t race the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Vegas this season. She’s capable of a top-10 finish in Kona this season, though it’s hard to know her physical status with so many accidents on the bike.
“Montana-made” Corbin is probably the most Kona experienced of the Americans this year, as she’s been racing on the Big Island since 2006, with her highest Kona finish being fifth in 2008. Last year, she again made the top 10 with an eighth-place finish before a late-season victory at Ironman Arizona. Because she was able to validate her Kona spot last November, she hasn’t been racing much this season due to an injury—she’s raced four 70.3’s, with a victory at 70.3 Mont-Tremblant in June and a fourth-place finish at 70.3 Oceanside in March. It’s hard to know whether a lack of racing and training this season will either leave her very fresh for another top-10 Kona finish or a little rusty.
Stevens has made a reputation for herself in the Ironman scene as a speedy swimmer and has been first out of the water in Kona the last two years. In both 2012 and 2011, she finished in 18th place. In May, she won Ironman Brazil, and earlier in the season she placed sixth at the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Melbourne. She also had three Ironman 70.3 podium finishes, including a win at 70.3 Brazil. This year, she’ll likely be at the front to start the bike and will be looking to improve on her top-20 finish from the last two years.
This will be second-year pro Hansen’s first attempt at racing on the Big Island, and in order to qualify she followed up her first Ironman title at Lake Placid with a sixth-place finish at the Ironman North American Championship in Mont-Tremblant three weeks later. Her other top finishes this year include second place at Ironman Texas in May and fourth place at Ironman 70.3 Syracuse in June. A former D1 collegiate runner, Hansen’s strength is the run, but the conditions and depth of the pro field in Kona could be a big learning curve for her.
Snow, who’s been racing on the Big Island since 2008, has the second most experience out of the American women, and has notched three top-10 finishes in the last three years (ninth in 2012 and 2011, eighth in 2010). She had a difficult start to her season this year, however, when a bike crash with another rider left her with four fractured ribs, a punctured and partially collapsed lung, a lacerated liver and a fractured vertebra. Even after recovering, she managed a runner-up finish at Ironman Coeur d’Alene and a win at 70.3 Steelhead, and could be on track for an even higher top-10 finish with her notorious run speed.
In her second season as a pro, Donavan captured her third Ironman title at Ironman South Africa and was also third at Ironman Brazil. Last year, she took the wins at Ironman Lake Placid and Mont-Tremblant, but it’ll be her first time racing in the pro ranks on the Big Island in a much deeper pro field than any of her Ironman victories. Donavan is known for her strength on the bike, but without being familiar with the conditions in Hawaii, it’ll be interesting to see how Donavan fares.
A long-time triathlete, Lyles raced in Kona in 2003 and 2006, but this will be her Kona debut as a pro. After a four-year hiatus from triathlon to have children and run marathons, she came back in 2012 to earn her pro card and won her first Ironman (Wisconsin) that she raced as a pro. This season, she won 70.3 Boise, placed fifth at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, and was third at the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon. Due to her years of experience as an endurance athlete and familiarity with the Kona course, she may do better than a few of her fellow pros making their Kona debuts.
Marsh had her first top-10 finish in Kona last year (she finished 10th in 2012 and 11th in 2010). A former collegiate swimmer, she typically comes out of the water in the first group and is one of the better swim-bikers in the pro ranks. This season, she logged a runner-up finish at 70.3 New Orleans, fifth at 70.3 Oceanside, sixth at Ironman Texas and 11th place last month at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Vegas. Look for her to vie for another top-10 showing next weekend.
Second-year pro Clifford will be make her debut in Kona as a pro. Her top finish as a pro so far was third in the late-season Ironman Florida in 2012, and this season she placed fourth at 70.3 Muncie.
This will be Schwabenbauer’s first time racing in Hawaii as a pro (she’s raced Kona twice as an amateur). In 2013, her second season racing as a pro, she was third at Ironman Texas and fifth at Ironman 70.3 New Orleans.
Having only been racing as a pro for less than a year, Chura will be racing as a pro for the first time on the Kona course, but has raced in Hawaii twice as an age-grouper—in 2011, she was the 27th amateur female and in 2012 she was the 11th amateur female (and 32nd overall female) and had the fastest overall female swim (including the pros) of 50:16. Chura swam for the University of Georgia, and since becoming a pro at the end of 2012, has racked up a victory at 70.3 New Orleans, fifth place at Ironman Brazil and eighth place at Ironman Mont-Tremblant.
The rest of the field
Here are the non-U.S. pro women competing in Kona, broken down by country. Excluded from the list is Kona qualifier Camilla Pedersen of Denmark, who won’t be racing in Kona this year due to serious injuries sustained in an accident.
Great Britain: 4
Leanda Cave, Jodie Swallow, Liz Blatchford, Rachel Joyce
Sonja Tajsich, Anja Beranek, Kristin Moeller, Mareen Hufe
New Zealand: 3
Gina Crawford, Britta Martin, Anna Ross
Rebekah Keat, Mirinda Carfrae, Rebecca Hoschke
Caroline Steffen, Natascha Badmann
Heather Wurtele, Sara Gross
The Netherlands: 2
Yvonne Van Vlerken, Mirjam Weerd