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Daniela Ryf Returns to Dominate for 5th Ironman World Championship

It's a return to the top step for Ryf.

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If the men’s race in St. George was a day of strategy and holding your cards close to your chest, then the women’s race was instead all about domination, passion, and the return of a queen.

Daniela Ryf, 34, took her fifth full-distance world crown (and her 10th world title overall) in a time of 8:34:59. With previous victories, Ryf has always kept her composure—but today there was no hiding how elated she was, not just to take the win, but to put to bed any questions about her continuing reign at the top of the sport. Pre-race, there were many—herself included—who had doubted whether she still had what it took to win a world championship, but from the moment Ryf moved to the front of the race today (around 30 miles into the bike) she never looked back.

As she turned into the finish chute, knowing victory was hers, she let out an uncharacteristic roar, and could not disguise her elation and emotion. “I’m just so stoked, after a really hard few months, to bring it together today. What a day!” she said. “The swim was tough, I actually screwed it up again, but I think it brings me luck if I’m not leading out of the swim. On the bike, Kat [Matthews] was pushing, I was pushing, it was actually really fun. I thought to myself on the bike, ‘even if I’m not going to win, I had fun today,’ and that’s really important.”

The happiness watts clearly paid off as Ryf said the power, as well as the enjoyment, were there from early in the bike, which seemed evident to all watching. “When I was on the bike I just enjoyed it and could also put some power down, which, of course, makes it even more fun.”

Her lead never looked in doubt on the run, clocking a 2:59:36, that delivered her to the finish line almost nine minutes ahead of second place Kat Matthews, who was delighted with her debut world championship performance. “I can’t ask for any more than this,” she said at the finish line. “I cannot believe my brain and body just kept delivering what I was asking of them. I pushed so hard, I was pushing a lot. To come to my first world championship and finish second to Daniela Ryf, well, wow, I’m very happy.”

With the 2019 Ironman world champion Anne Haug running her down, Matthews said she feared she was going to get caught by the fleet-footed runner (whose 2:56:00 split was the fastest female run of the day) but she said she “found her legs” around mile 12. Despite cramping with just a couple of miles to go, she successfully held off Haug to cross the line in 8:43:49. She added: “I actually think I paced it perfectly.”

Haug finished just over three minutes behind Matthews in 8:47:03 and was so depleted that announcer Mike Reilly joined her on the floor for her finish line interview: “It was ridiculously hot. I was digging so deep. Well done to Daniela, she showed how class she is, and Kat had an amazing race. I’m super happy with my third place. My first goal was to see the finish line, my second goal was to do as well as possible so I achieved both today.”

How the race unfolded

Despite concerns about wind and weather, the wetsuit swim stayed calm out at Sand Hollow Reservoir. Super swimmer Haley Chura was first out of the water in 50:29, with Lisa Norden just over two minutes back and a large group that included Ryf, Skye Moench, Matthews, and defending champ Haug at 4:15 behind.

In pre-race interviews, Ryf talked openly about having a tough few years—with up and down results, including 11th at 70.3 Worlds last year and 13th at the last Ironman World Championship in 2019. “Last year was not my best,” she said at the pre-race press conference, but noted she has her health back and is training well. “The big races do motivate me. It’s really when it matters that I can get the best out of myself.”

She certainly looked like her old self early on the bike, coming to the front and pulling a front group of Matthews, Norden, and Moench with her—but by mile 40 only Matthews had stuck to the Ryf train and by mile 50 even the up-and-coming Brit was off. From there, Ryf simply opened up a bigger and bigger lead on the women behind her—blowing the field apart in the process.

Matthews left T2 in second place, some seven minutes behind Ryf, but it was the women in her rear view mirror that were likely causing her most concern. Norden started the run two minutes back, with Moench and Haug six minutes behind. Unsurprisingly, Haug moved through the field with her hallmark speed and by mile 10 had passed Norden for the final podium spot. Although Haug began eating into the buffer Matthews had, once the Brit found her run legs around the halfway point she showed great stoicism and composure—and actually started opening up more of a gap on Haug in the final few miles. At the finish line, Haug confirmed what her body was showing us: “I gave absolutely everything that was in the tank today—I’m very happy it was enough for third place.”

Women's 2021 Ironman World championship results
Daniela Ryf (CHE) 8:34:59:
Kat Matthews (GBR) 8:43:49
Anne Haug (GER) 8:47:03
Skye Moench (USA) 8:55:21
Ruth Astle (GBR) 9:00:09
Lisa Norden (SWE) 9:03:31
Laura Siddall (GBR) 9:08:34
Fenella Langridge (GBR) 9:09:40
Gurutze Frades Larralde (ESP) 9:13:35
Maja-Stage-Nielsen (DNK) 9:14:32