“I think it’s just fantastic. Mark and I were both in the very first world championship in Avignon and this has the same feel of something big just getting started and everyone coming together to make it happen. Looking back, I didn’t really realize how significant it was then, and now I’m just so proud to have been there and been a part of it—and I feel the same way about this. I’d just love to be out there racing!”
These are the words of U.S. team captain Karen Smyers, as she prepares to discuss her selections for the 12 three-way match-ups that will take place over the 100K course in the first-ever Collins Cup in Samorin, Slovakia on Saturday.
With three teams (U.S. v. Europe v. Internationals) and 12 head-to-head-to-head match-ups between athletes from each team, the draft of who would face who was made with all the pomp and fanfare one would expect. The draw came at the end of an opening ceremony that saw 36 triathletes, plus the six captains, walk on to stage to the strains of Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and ACDC.
Athletes were selected and counter-selected. Match-ups were determined. And now the showdown in Slovakia is set for some enthralling contests from the world’s best, starting with women in match #1 at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday (7 a.m. ET), with each match then following at 10 minutes intervals.
Want to watch? Want to understand all that went into this first-of-its-kinds event. We’ll have the live feed at 7 a.m. ET on Saturday.
But first let’s go through the match-ups, while Smyers and co-captain Mark Allen explain why they picked the way they did and how it might play out.
Match 1: Daniela Ryf (Europe) v. Taylor Knibb (USA) v. Teresa Adam (Internationals)
The first match-up and arguably the highlight. Four-time Ironman world champion Ryf is PTO-ranked #1 and arrives with a colossal reputation. Knibb has completed just one 70.3 race—on the same road bike she’ll be racing in Samorin. But she’s an Olympic silver medalist and having the time of her life. Throw in Kiwi Teresa Adam, the PTO #2 ranked athlete, who has raced almost exclusively in Australia and New Zealand, and it promises to be a firecracker of a start.
Smyers says: “Taylor has just shown she’s completely fearless. Look at how she won the Grand Final in Edmonton. That’s the kind of attitude we need against someone who has such an intimidating history. Daniela Ryf? Everybody is scared if her, but Taylor is like: ‘I’m new, I’m coming on strong and I don’t care what has happened in the past!’”
Match 2: Lucy Charles-Barclay (Europe) v. Paula Findlay (Internationals) v. Katie Zafares (USA)
Another match-up of the highest calibre. Honors have been fairly even between Findlay and Charles-Barclay in recent contests on the U.S. speedways—with the Canadian coming out on top in Daytona and Charles-Barclay in Miami. But seeing what captains’ pick Katies Zafares can deliver is intriguing. Untested at this distance, she’s fresh off winning Olympic silver and bronze and consistently one of the strongest racers in short-course.
Smyers says: “Katie’s a little unknown to both Lucy and Paula, and she’s a little unknown to everyone at this distance. We kept this one simple. It was our first pick for Match 2 and we picked Katie and said: “Let’s see what they’ll put up against her and let them try to figure it out.’”
Match 3: Anne Haug (Europe) v. Jeanni Metzler (Internationals) v. Jackie Hering (USA)
All three women are known for their speed on the run, and while German Ironman world champion Anne Haug will start as a clear favorite, South African Metzler and former track runner Hering are no slouches—the latter posting a 78-minute half-marathon in her most recent Ironman 70.3 in Des Moines.
Smyers says: “We wanted to match the fast runners because we thought there’s nothing worse than getting rundown from behind. Having someone who might match Haug’s leg speed is a good call.”
Match 4: Holly Lawrence (Europe) v. Ellie Salthouse (Internationals) v. Skye Moench (USA)
While a rivalry has been stoked between Lawrence and Salthouse, it’s the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championship-winning Brit who has gained the upper hand in all nine of their encounters. Moench did pip Lawrence by one place in their last meeting in St. George, but still only reduced the deficit to 8-1.
Smyers says: “I think Skye is a good person to race Holly and Ellie. She’s good across the board and we’ll see what happens. Skye is money. She never has a bad race, but some athletes are going to have a bad race here.”
Match 5: Emma Pallant-Browne (Europe) v. Sarah Crowley (Internationals) v. Chelsea Sodaro (USA)
With Pallant-Browne winning five of her last seven starts, Europe will again start as favorites. Ironman specialist Crowley comes into this match-up with a confidence-boosting victory in Ecuador, and Sodaro will be hoping to find form fast after returning from giving birth to daughter Skylar.
Smyers says: “Chelsea is on the upswing. Every week that goes by she’s getting faster and faster, and I think people may underestimate her a little. Once it starts clicking you just feel better and better. She’s competitive and doesn’t like to lose.”
Match 6: Kat Matthews (Europe) v. Carrie Lester (Internationals) v. Jocelyn McCauley (USA)
The final women’s match-up pits three women who have all excelled over the iron-distance, but both Lester and McCauley raced over 140.6 miles less than a fortnight ago in France and Finland. Matthews won Ironman UK recently and posted one of the fastest women’s runs ever with a 2:49 marathon in Tulsa back in May.
Smyers says: “Jocelyn is also coming back from maternity leave and her performances in Boulder [placing sixth] and Finland [runner-up], just one week apart, were like night and day. Her problem is recovery, but there are others coming here off races too.”
Match 7: Jan Frodeno (Europe) v. Sam Appleton (Internationals) v. Sam Long (USA)
European captain Normann Stadler played his men’s trump card first up and it could be argued both the Internationals and USA followed suit. The three-time Ironman champion Frodeno is the favorite, but Australian Appleton is a specialist at the distance, and if Long can make up a swim deficit to be in contention, it could become spicy.
Allen says: “I didn’t want to come into the picks being fearful and I wanted to make it as hard as possible for each triathlete to bring their best race out. That’s what this’ll be about. I spoke with Sam at length and in the past four weeks he’s been on the up and up. It’s a bit like the match-up with Daniela and Taylor. Sam is probably the only guy who can look at Jan and go: ‘OK, he’s faster than me, but I’d don’t give a s***!’”
Match 8: Gustav Iden (Europe) v. Kyle Smith (Internationals) v. Rudy von Berg (USA)
Norwegian Iden might have spent the last few weeks in the shadow of compatriot and new Olympic champion Kristian Blummenfelt, but he’s still the reigning Ironman 70.3 champion and, having won Challenge Daytona in December, is one of the headline acts here. Smith was on a tear in New Zealand, winning five straight middle distance races before coming to Europe for the summer, and Rudy von Berg comes fresh from a win at Switzerland 70.3, where his victory was achieved by more than six minutes. A repeat of that would give him maximum bonus points here.
Allen says: “I wanted to put Rudy up there because he knows the Europeans better than anybody. The European captain Normann Stadler said the Europeans are stronger and it doesn’t matter who they throw out, but Rudy will know them more intimately than anyone else on the team and can gain an edge. It’ll be a great match-up.”
UPDATE: Collin Chartier has been substituted for von Berg, who is out with an illness.
Match 9: Sebastian Kienle (Europe) v. Lionel Sanders (Internationals) v. Andrew Starykowicz (USA)
The battle of the uber-bikers is one to catch the eye. There is no doubt where these three athletes’ strengths lie and a 80K flat, straight, and potentially windy bike course plays into all their hands. How much fatigue Sanders will have in the legs after finishing second in Ironman Copenhagen last weekend, and whether 2014 Ironman world champion Kienle can regain form post-injury remain to be seen. If there are chinks then Starykowicz might just pull off a shock.
Allen says: “This is like the dream match-up. To have those three guys. Lionel was picked first, then when the Europeans put Sebi up, I had no option but to stick Starky in there. He brings an ‘I don’t give a s*** about you guys’ attitude and he’s just going to go for it. He knows he’s nearing the end of his career, feels a little behind on the accolades, and wants to land a few trophies before hanging up the shoes.”
Match 10: Daniel Baekkegard (Europe) v. Max Neumann (Internationals) v. Ben Kanute (USA)
There’s not much history of these three racing each other. Neumann beat Kanute in their only encounter in Samorin in 2019, although neither had the race they were looking for. Kanute is 1-1 with Baekkegard, with Baekkegard as world ranked #10, one place above the American. The Dane is yet to face Neumann, and none of the trio are coming in fatigued off the back of recent races. So, all in all, it all promises to be a closely fought encounter at what could be a key juncture in the day.
Allen says: “I thought Ben would be perfect against Baekkegard, who I think is a little underrated. I needed to put somebody in there who would go berserk! I’ve seen Ben race and he’s off the charts, and that’s what it’s going to take to beat Baekkegard.”
Match 11: Patrick Lange (Europe) v. Braden Currie (Internationals) v. Matt Hanson (USA)
In echoes of the Haug-Metzler-Hering match-up this one looks another set to be decided on the run. Two-time Ironman world champion Lange is famed for his Ironman marathons at Kona, but also showed he can deliver elsewhere with a 2:36 in Tulsa in May. Hanson put in a phenomenal show in Daytona in December, but hasn’t raced since May, although it’s even longer from Currie, who has flown in from New Zealand and whose last race was the Ironman there in March.
Allen says: “We looked at who was left on the roster and thought let’s see if we can draw on the runners for this one. The way Matt ran in Daytona was very impressive. Watching that race, I thought he was gone and then he just appeared from nowhere. We’re hoping for more of the same.”
Match 12: Joe Skipper (Europe) v. Jackson Laundry (Internationals) v. Justin Metzler (USA)
The final match-up, and if the Collins Cup still hasn’t been won by the time this trio enter the latter part of the run, then it will have been a resounding success and a nail-biting finish. Britain’s Joe Skipper is ranked fifth in the world but doesn’t have a middle-distance victory to his name. Canadian Jackson Laundry does, as recently as July in Ecuador, and captains’ pick Metzler will be hoping to upset them both and his South African wife Jeanni, who is racing for the Internationals.
Allen says: “It could go any which way. If it’s close everybody will be on their tippy toes and see who has got it today!”