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As the big day on the Big Island approaches, learn about the fresh faces—and the returning vets—racing for glory on the sunny streets of triathlon’s tropical capital. (Read the men’s preview here.)
The question in the women’s professional race is not, “Who will win?” It’s, “Can anyone beat Daniela?” The Swiss star is the defending three-time Ironman world champion and either she will have to stumble badly or someone else will have to step up her game bigtime to dethrone her. She is very particular about where she races, making it easy to forget about her greatness during a good chunk of the season. Ryf was fairly quiet through most of 2018 until she obliterated the eld at the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt—putting together a 53:11 swim, a 4:40:55 bike, and a 2:58:53 marathon to set a new course record (8:38:44) and beat the next fastest finisher (USA’s Sarah True) by 26 minutes. After the performance her coach Brett Sutton tweeted, “I have waited till [sic] now, but the truth is we are witnessing the fastest Ironman female of all time.”
United Kingdom, 25
Charles is arguably the greatest Ironman swimmer, period. In her Kona debut last year, she posted a 48:48 swim, a time that put her on par with the lead pack of men. But this superswimmer—who competed in the 800m at Britain’s 2012 Olympic swimming trials—is no one-sport wonder. She followed up that Big Island swim with the fifth fastest run and bike splits of the day to secure a second-place finish—and began the comparisons to fellow Brit Chrissie Wellington, who famously showed up to Kona as a relative unknown in 2007 and won. She’s already got two big first- place finishes under her goggles this year—at IM South Africa and the Challenge Championship. With Charles making the rest of the field sweat right from the gun, start getting stoked to see if she can hold on to her inevitable lead out of the water this year.
Rinny needs no introduction. The Boulder-based Aussie phenom is a three-time Ironman world champion who has also podiumed seven times since her Kona debut in 2009—a debut in which she set a new course run record of 2:56:51. She missed last year after giving birth to baby girl, Isabelle, in August, but still turned up on the Big Island to cheer for husband Timothy O’Donnell. To say her return to Kona has been highly anticipated would be an understatement. She took second place at her first full event post-momhood at June’s IM Cairns, and we expect her to keep on improving. We also expect her to have a burning desire to end the three-year winning streak of reigning champ Daniela Ryf, who bested Rinny for the crown in 2016. It’s payback time for the new mom.
This perennially cheery competitor was destined for Ironman stardom: she first rode 112 miles when she was 12 years old. Twenty-two years later, she crossed her very first Ironman finish line at Ironman Barcelona in second place with a time of 8:48:40. She’s been a fierce force on the 140.6 circuit ever since, with two fifth-place Kona finishes (in 2016 and 2017) and a win at IMAZ 2017—just ve weeks after Kona—as well as the Ironman African Championship in 2016. This year, she crushed 70.3 Monterey, outrunning and beating multiple world champion Mirinda Carfrae in the process. Strong across all three sports, a small boost in swim speed could give her the few minutes she needs to crack the podium this year.
United States, 34
In 2016, Jackson was the first U.S. woman to finish on the Kona podium since 2006. Her ever-present smile and humility—combined with her incredible grit—have turned this former Princeton ice hockey star into one of the sport’s most beloved athletes. Last year she finished just 51 seconds o the podium in fourth. She’s already been on a half-iron tear this year, scoring her fourth Wild ower victory, crushing Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga, and earning a runner-up finish at 70.3 Raleigh in June. Her domination at July’s Lake Placid IM qualifier proves she’s in her prime; with a little speedier swim, she could get the crown—or at least another stellar podium finish.
A two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion and Commonwealth Games silver medalist in the steeplechase, Australia’s Melissa Hauschildt has never raced fully to her potential on the Big Island. She’s entered six non-Kona Ironmans in her career and has won all six—but the Ironman World Championship continues to be a puzzle. She managed a 14th-place finish at the 2017 Kona race and will definitely be looking to improve. This season’s accolades include victories at both Ironman Western Australia and the Ironman North American Championship in Texas. In Kona she’ll come out of the swim with a bit of ground to make up, but look for her to have a big impact on the bike and run if she’s able to touch down on the island injury-free.
The 37-year-old former track and field sprinter from Australia has been flying low on the radar during the last few years, but she’s been making steady movement toward the front of the field with consistent finishes and an even attack. Though her swim prevents her from being at the pointy end of the field early, a strong bike, and a solid run help her clip through the women in the field who are impatient and fade in the late stages of the Kona heat. Lester’s a very calculated athlete, not even giving Kona an honest try until she was entirely ready in 2016, but since then she’s proven to be a top-10 stalwart with a 10th-place finish two years ago and a seventh place in 2017. If she can keep dialing in Kona, remain contained, and let the leaders race themselves to death, expect to see Lester in the top five.
Great Britain, 32
Cheetham has showed steady improvement as an Ironman athlete and finished sixth in both the 2015 and 2017 Ironman World Championship (she was injured in 2016). She quietly finishes on the podium in many of the races she competes in and doesn’t have many blockbuster titles to her name, so she tends to fly under the radar as a contender. Her quiet consistency will eventually pay big dividends at a race like Kona. Like so many on this list, she will need to quickly make up some time out of the swim to be in contention, but her overall race abilities—and specifically her marathon strength—make her one to watch on the big day.
In the time leading up to Kona 2017, Sarah Crowley had slowly progressed through the triathlon ranks with steady improvement from short-course to long- course—after leaving her job in the world of corporate finance in 2015. Last year, she was an outside pick for a top 10 in Kona—based on her win in Frankfurt—but the then-34-year-old Aussie stunned observers with a third-place finish on the Big Island. Since then, Crowley has proven to be a smart scheduler— only racing a small handful of times in 2018, as opposed to previous seasons where she’d be nearly 10 races deep before the big day on the Big Island. She’s also in fine form, sealing her Kona slot with an excellent third-place finish at IM Frankfurt in July amongst a tough field. If Crowley can minimize her losses during the swim (something she’s been working on), a strong bike and run could put her back on the podium in Kona again.
Adam is still very new to the Ironman game, but that doesn’t mean the Kiwi doesn’t know how to race it. The former ITU athlete ran away with the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in her second try at the distance. Strong Kona performances in the first attempt are rare, but they’re not unheard of. Keep Adam on your radar.
Despite a long career at the upper echelons of tri, Sarah True (née Groff) is a Kona rookie. The two-time U.S. Olympian has proven herself at the 70.3 distance in recent years as she moved away from short- course, but a second-place finish at her Ironman debut in Frankfurt in July says she could be a dangerous Kona dark horse.
The former ITU number-one-ranked athlete jumped up to long-course racing this year and has found quick success. The German dominated the field at 70.3 Oceanside and raced to a respectable fourth at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt. Haug will have to turn in a smart tactical race—not an easy task for a Kona rookie—to contend for a top finish.
Learning how to race successfully on the Big Island is no easy feat, but 30-year-old McCauley is starting to crack the Ironman World Championship code. She turned in a steady e ort in 2017 to finish in the top 10 and will look to do it again in October.
Piampiano has ridden the Kona roller coaster, with her share of impressive and disappointing results to show for it. She DNF’d last year, but her 2015 and 2016 seventh-place finishes prove her potential. Minimizing the damage out of the swim is the key to Kona glory for this American.