Ironman World Championship: Pro Women’s Preview

With no returning champ, who is the favorite to take the women’s title?

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For the first time in four years, the lead-up to the Ironman World Championship does not center around Great Britain’s Chrissie Wellington as the overwhelming favorite. The now four-time world champ burst onto the Kona scene by dominating in her Hawaii Ironman debut in 2007. She overcome a flat tire to win in 2008, turned in a world-record performance in 2009 and then pulled out of the 2010 Ironman World Championship the morning of the race with an illness. Her return to Kona in 2011 wasn’t any less drama-filled. Two weeks before the race Wellington was involved in a bike crash in Boulder, Colo., and came to the race with fairly traumatic injuries. In true Wellington fashion she found a way to win, coming from behind on the run to take the victory. Less than three months after that memorable performance, Wellington announced she would be taking 2012 off from serious triathlon competition.

So, with no returning champ, who is the favorite to take the women’s title?

RELATED – Poll: Who Will Win The Women’s Kona Title?

The Two Favorites
2010 winner Mirinda Carfrae of Australia is the easy choice to name a pre-race favorite. The two-time world champion (she’s also a former 70.3 worlds winner) has raced in Kona three times; winning once (2010), placing second twice (2009 and 2011) and breaking the run course record all three times. It’s that consistency that puts Carfrae as a pre-race contender, but she admits 2012 has been a “quieter year” with only two victories to show for her season.

In contrast, the other heavy favorite, Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen, finished fifth in 2011 (she recently revealed she was injured during the lead-up to the race), but has had a stellar 2012 season. The “Swiss Miss” dominated two of the biggest Ironmans outside of Kona in Melbourne and Frankfurt and says she’s had an ideal buildup to Kona this year.

The All-Around All-Stars
The remaining pair from last year’s top five also have a legitimate case to be considered podium contenders. Great Britain’s Leanda Cave and Rachel Joyce have earned their own world titles in the last year (Joyce at the 2011 ITU Long Distance Worlds and Cave at last month’s 70.3 World Championship) and their respective third- and fourth-place finishes in 2011 show they can handle the Kona pressure and conditions.

While they don’t have the same firepower as the previously mentioned duo (Carfrae on the run and Steffen on the bike), they are two of the fastest swimmers in the race and are both strong cyclists and runners.

The Americans
The performance of the American women has been a disappointment over the past few years, but that could change for 2012. Americans outnumber any other country on the start list—nine of the 31 female professionals are representing the United States—and a few have a good shot at the podium.

Mary Beth Ellis has won five of six Ironmans she’s raced in and is one of the most powerful athletes in the field. She was forced to over-race last year to earn a Kona start (three Ironmans spread over eight weeks) and finished 15th in her Hawaii Ironman debut. With more suitable preparations under her belt this year no one will be surprised if she makes her way to top three.

Another American hope is the highest U.S. finisher from the 2011 race. Caitlin Snow posted the second-fastest marathon split of the women in 2011 and will look to run her way through the field again.

Ironman 70.3 U.S. champion Kelly Williamson is capable of posting the top splits in both the swim and the run, and will look to minimize the damage on the bike to have a chance at improving on her 13th-place finish from 2011.

Rounding out the American favorites are two Ironman winners, and good friends, Linsey Corbin and Meredith Kessler. Both are coached by Purplepatch’s Matt Dixon and although they both had disappointing performances at the 70.3 world championships in Vegas (Corbin pulled out of the race with a flat tire and Kessler was recovering from a bike crash), they’ve both had overall successful seasons.

The Dark Horses
Because this is a world championship and the very best come out to race, there are a handful of other women who could sneak onto the podium on Saturday. Australia’s Rebekah Keat, Canada’s Heather Wurtele and New Zealand’s Gina Crawford and Jo Lawn have been on an upward trend over the past few months and could peak at the perfect time.

Also look out for a few European athletes who choose to race less and fly below the radar to put up solid fights. Anja Baranek (GER), Sonja Tajsich (GER), Sofie Goos (BEL), Tine Deckers (BEL), Kristin Moeller (GER) and Erika Csomor (HUN) are all ones to watch.

It’s also worth nothing that Switzerland’s Natascha Badmann, a six-time winner of this race, will be competing. Though she’s the oldest pro making the start, she finished 14th last year and has the know-how required to be successful in Kona.

See the complete start list below and visit for more from the Big Island.

Caroline Steffen (SUI)
Mirinda Carfrae (AUS)
Leanda Cave (GBR)
Rachel Joyce (GBR)
Mary Beth Ellis (USA)
Meredith Kessler (USA)
Anja Baranek (GER)
Heather Wurtele (CAN)
Linsey Corbin (USA)
Rebekah Keat (AUS)
Amy Marsh (USA)
Joanna Lawn (NZL)
Kelly Williamson (USA)
Gina Crawford (NZL)
Caitlin Snow (USA)
Simone Brandli (SUI)
Sarah Piampiano (USA)
Natascha Badmann (SUI)
Jessica Jacobs (USA)
Sonja Tajsich (GER)
Sofie Goos (BEL)
Tine Dechers (BEL)
Kristin Moeller (GER)
Amanda Stevens (USA)
Michelle Gailey (AUS)
Susan Dietrich (GER)
Erika Csomor (HUN)
Emi Sakai (JPN)
Michelle Vesterby (DEN)
Sara Gross (CAN)
Mareen Hufe (GER)

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