For ten minutes on Saturday lightning flashed and rain poured onto the athletes in St. George, Utah. Barricades blew over and athletes hurtling dowhill in the middle of the Ironman 70.3 World Championships struggled to hold onto their bikes. But then the sun came up and the two dominant athletes at the front of the race claimed their world titles without ever looking under serious stress.
“I just thought, ‘they better not cancel this race because I want my world title,'” said Lucy Charles-Barclay. They didn’t, and she did. For the popular British athlete it was an emotional moment at the finish line, hugging her husband, Reece, and tearing up. “It means absolutely everything to come here and win this,” she said. This was her first-ever world title after a number of second place finishes, both at the Ironman World Championships and previously at the 70.3 World Championships.
“I’ve definitely had enough of coming second. With no racing last year, I was hungrier than ever to get a world title.”
In the men’s race, defending 70.3 world champion Gustav Iden took the lead near the start of the Snow Canyon climb and then ran away with the win, after countryman and Olympic gold medalist Kristian Blummenfelt was stopped by a mechanical that required a wheel swap.
The hardest part? “The first four meters of the swim,” he said. An aggressive start got him a kick in the chest and likely a fractured rib, he said after, but while it hurt him some into T1, it didn’t seem to bother the Norwegian the rest of the day. “The pain really started after the finish line,” he said.
The day began with 36 pro men hitting the waters of Sand Hollow for a non-wetsuit swim. First out of the water was Ben Kanute, with a small group that included Blummenfelt and Danish contender Daniel Baekkegard. Iden was 1:10 back after that swim injury, with a larger group. But most impressively American Sam Long conceded only 2:24 before getting on the bike—a much smaller deficit than many anticipated.
By halfway through it was a group of about ten until Iden “just kind of made us look silly for a bit on the bike,” said fifth-place finisher Jackson Landry. Iden made a move both on the climb and then on the long and fast downhill, flying into T2 with a sub-1:59 bike split and putting almost three minutes into that chase pack.
From there, no one really could touch the Norwegian machine—whose motto, in case you were wondering is: “Winning is a choice.”
He simply ran faster than anyone, with a 1:11:32 on the hilly course.
Out of the group behind emerged the 25-year-old Long, who pushed hard and pulled away on the downhills—and spared a ‘yo yo yo’ as he went by the hot corner for his fans. He was “thrilled,” he said with second place. After 36th at 2019 70.3 Worlds in Nice, he hung the poster from that race on his wall to remind him of how much work he had to do. Now, he said, it’s back to work to close the last three minutes—and to race Ironman Chattanooga in eight days.
Iden’s win was dominant, but it was nothing compared to the women’s race–where Charles-Barclay exited the swim over a minute up and simply extended the gap more and more throughout the day, ultimately crossing the line over eight minutes ahead of second place Jeanni Metzler, who battled it out with the young star Taylor Knibb all the way to the line.
“That was exactly how I wanted the day to go,” said Charles-Barclay, “but I never thought it would go just like that.”
She emerged from the water even farther ahead than we’ve sometimes seen in the past, putting 1:30 on the group behind that included Knibb (fresh off a busy summer), Metzler, and 2016 70.3 World Champion Holly Lawrence. Defending champion Daniela Ryf was another minute back.
As Knibb pulled into second on the bike—notably, yes, still riding the road bike she rode at her first 70.3 at Boulder—it looked like Ryf would do what she usually does, riding up through the field. But then something weird happened. Ryf never closed the pass on Knibb and started to fall backwards. The fatigue from her Ironman Switzerland win two weeks ago appeared to show in her legs, as well as hints of an illness that was rumored at the Collins Cup.
By the time the women hit T2, the race was over. No one ever even got close to Charles-Barclay, who ultimately posted the fastest run of the day too (1:18:48).
“She was just in another zip code, pretty much another country,” said Knibb.
The battle was really for the rest of the spots on the podium. Knibb held onto second until she ran into a port-a-potty and her training partner, Metzler, made the pass.
“I didn’t want to be in a sprint finish with her,” said Metzler. “It would end badly for me.”
Metzler crossed the line 11 seconds ahead of Knibb, before they hugged and congratulated each other. “I’m first and foremost proud of Jeanni, and then I guess it’s a cherry on top that I did well too,” said Knibb.
One after another, the women crossed the line close together and hugged each other, laughing about how hard the day was. Both Ryf and Blummenfelt also finished to cheers from the crowd despite their less than stellar days—Ryf in 11th, 17 minutes back; and Blummenfelt in 27th after the wheel change.
While the rain hit the pros on the run, it was a tougher situation for the age-groupers still on the bike and in the water. Approximately 80 women were pulled from the water when the lightning and storm hit, and were allowed to continue on the bike with times adjusted later.
“As we ran uphill, we could see them biking downhill,” said Baekkegard, who took third. “I wouldn’t trade it. Kudos to you guys.”
- Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR) – 4:00:20
- Jeanni Metzler (ZAF) – 4:08:39
- Taylor Knibb (USA) – 4:08:50
- Kat Matthews (GBR) – 4:10:46
- Emma Pallant-Browne (GBR) – 4:12:11
- Gustav Iden (NOR) – 3:37:13
- Sam Long (USA) – 3:41:09
- Daniel Baekkegard (DEN) – 3:42:24
- Miki Taagholt (DEN) – 3:43:08
- Jackson Laundry (CAN) – 3:43:25