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2017 Ironman World Championship Preview: Pro Women’s Race

Can Daniela Ryf get a third-straight Kona victory?

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We tapped’s über stats geek Thorsten Radde for the rundown on who’s primed for glory and how triathlon’s most iconic race will go down. Read up, then place your bets. (Read the men’s preview here.)

The Women

Daniela Ryf
Switzerland, 30
Very few scenarios lead to someone other than Daniela winning Kona. One is a technical issue that makes it impossible for her to continue. Another is an injury – we’ve seen Daniela struggle with a back injury for the first half of the year, though even in pain she was able to win IM South Africa with a sub-9 time. For her summer race at Challenge Roth, she was pain free, but wasn’t able to put in the training she wanted—and still finished with the fastest time of the year. She showed signs of her dominating ways with her victory at last month’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship. If she continues to be healthy and train well, only Madame Pele will be able to stop Daniela from winning her third IM Hawaii in a row.

An ecstatic Heather Jackson finishes third. Photo: Oliver Baker

Heather Jackson
USA, 33
Last year, Heather was the first U.S. woman since Desiree Ficker in 2006 to finish on the Kona podium, but it wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone following Ironman racing. After a fifth place finish in 2015, she had a great 2016 summer season winning IM Lake Placid with a new course record. Heather is Daniela’s most formidable competitor—and this issue’s coverchamp! Don’t miss our in-depth look at America’s Kona darling here.

Anja Beranek
Germany, 32
In 2016 Anja stayed close to Daniela for the longest time, eventually coming off the bike in second place. Then, she ran a smart marathon: Her 3:16 in the tough Kona conditions was less than two minutes slower than her marathon PR on the much faster course at Challenge Roth. She shook an illness just in time to finish her 2017 validation race in Frankfurt in a disappointing eighth place. It won’t be a surprise to see her ride in the front group on the bike for a good part of the race. In order to contend for the podium, she would have to run around 3:05—and she will use her Frankfurt result as extra motivation for her Kona training block.

Kaisa Sali
Finland, 36
When Kaisa finished fifth in Kona 2016, she was still known as Kaisa Lehtonen. Getting hitched wasn’t the only change for her after Kona: She parted ways with her short-course focused coach, Paul Sjöholm, and joined Siri Lindley’s group to focus on going long.After winter training, she was able to secure her Kona ticket with a strong second place finish at IM South Africa, posting a sub-9 finish and a sub-3 run. This summer she is gaining more experience at the 70.3 distance, and Siri will make sure that Kaisa arrives in Kona with a solid race strategy. We’ll see if that plan means she’ll bike more aggressively (similar to what she did in Port Elizabeth) or if Kaisa will rely on her strong run.

Susie Cheetham
Great Britain, 31
Susie had a great rookie pro year in 2015, taking sixth place at Kona. For most of 2016 she struggled with crashes and injuries, but this season she is back to racing strong: A third place in South Africa, followed by a win at the South American Regional Championships in Brazil with a sub-9 time. While she continues to be one of the best runners among the Ironman females, her swim has taken a big step forward, so she doesn’t have a real weakness anymore. In addition, she has been riding consistently under 5 hours. Similar to Kaisa, Susie will work her way towards the podium on the marathon.

Piampiano in 2015. Photo: John David Becker

Sarah Piampiano
USA, 37
If triathlon consisted of bike and run, Sarah would have a lot more to show on her Kona resumé than two seventh place finishes. She’s consistently among the fastest athletes on dry land but often behind after the swim. She has also proven that she has the patience to race well in Kona, where the bigger, deeper field makes it harder to make up time to the front on the bike as she has been able to do in other races. With the tight racing in Kona, small differences can have a big impact on the overall result: If she’d been just three minutes quicker after the bike in Kona 2016, she’d have started the run with Mirinda and Kaisa. Being challenged by a strong runner this year could give her the extra push to finally run under three hours. In Kona, that usually means a podium finish.

Michelle Vesterby
Denmark, 34
Michelle’s smiling personality almost overshadows what a tough racer she is, especially when it matters. She made it to Kona in 2015 with a win in the final qualifying race at IM Copenhagen after two DNFs—then went on to finish fourth on the big island. She was sixth in 2016, even after receiving a five-minute blocking penalty. After Kona, she validated by winning IM Cozumel, then was third at IM Austria after leading for much of the day. Her strong swim and bike will see her close to the front in Kona for most of the day. Her best marathon is a 3:12 from Copenhagen 2015, so if she can run under 3:10 in Kona, she’ll be a strong podium contender.

Joyce finished third in the 2015 Ironman World Championship. Photo: John David Becker

Rachel Joyce
Great Britain, 39
Rachel has finished three times on the Kona podium but skipped 2016 when she gave birth to her son Archie, just a few weeks before Kona. She’s one of the toughest and most consistent racers—her worst Ironman result was an 11th place in Kona 2012 after being sick for most of the race week. She’s also experienced enough to race her own race and not to be drawn into someone else’s plan. She doesn’t have anything to lose this year, so she might be prepared to take some more risks to achieve a big result in Kona.

Sarah Crowley
Australia, 34
For the last few years, Sarah has slowly made the progression from Olympic-distance racing to 70.3s to full-distance Ironman while working in corporate finance. After becoming a full-time pro in 2015, she qualified for Kona in 2016, finishing pretty much unnoticed by the wider triathlon community in 15th place. This season, she received a lot more attention: Within four weeks, she won two regional championships—one in Cairns (by building a lead on the bike over Sarah Piampiano) and one in Frankfurt (by running down T2-leader Lucy Charles). She plans to race in Kona but without too many expectations—her focus will be on a good Kona race in 2018. Bear in mind, she didn’t expect to do to well in Frankfurt either, and if her recovery goes well, maybe going relaxed into the Hawaii race can be her recipe for a top-10 finish.

Pro Women’s Start List

Heather Jackson’s epic selfie from the 2016 race. Photo:

101 Daniela Ryf (SUI)
102 Sarah Crowley (AUS)
103 Kaisa Sali (FIN)
104 Sarah Piampiano (USA)
105 Heather Jackson (USA)
106 Michelle Vesterby (DEN)
107 Susie Cheetham (GBR)
108 Anja Beranek (GER)
109 Michaela Herlbauer (AUT)
110 Linsey Corbin (USA)
111 Leanda Cave (GBR)
112 Elizabeth Lyles (USA)
113 Rachel Joyce (GBR)
114 Annabel Luxford (AUS)
115 Laura Siddall (GBR)
116 Jodie Robertson (USA)
117 Carrie Lester (AUS)
118 Lucy Charles (GBR)
119 Astrid Stienen (GER)
120 Alexandra Tondeur (BEL)
121 Camilla Pedersen (DEN)
122 Asa Lundstrom (SWE)
123 Corinne Abraham (GBR)
124 Maja Stage Nielsen (DEN)
125 Kristin Moeller (GER)
126 Sonja Tajsich (GER)
127 Dimity-lee Duke (AUS)
128 Mareen Hufe (GER)
129 Gurutze Frades (ESP)
130 Lauren Brandon (USA)
131 Alicia Kaye (USA)
132 Diana Riesler (GER)
133 Melissa Hauschildt (AUS)
134 Celine Schaerer (SUI)
135 Katharina Grohmann (GER)
136 Jocelyn McCauley (USA)
138 Haley Chura (USA)
139 Nikki Bartlett (GBR)
140 Jeanne Collonge (FRA)