The 2:34 Marathoner Who May Surprise Everyone in Kona

Karen Smyers’ top picks for the women’s podium in 2017.

Karen Smyers’ top picks for the women’s podium in 2017.

American Ironman world champion Karen Smyers was inducted into Ironman’s Hall of Fame in its inaugural year. The living legend swept up victories in every world championship event around in the ‘90s, then stunned the world when, after starting a family, surviving a collision with a semi-truck, and having a cancerous thyroid removed, she placed fifth at Kona at 40 years old.

Now the coach is Team USA’s female captain for the Collins Cup. (Read more about the Collins Cup here, an event named after the founders of Ironman racing, and debuting next year at Challenge Roth.)

Clearly, Smyers knows Kona, racing, and pros like no one else. Below, she shares her top American picks for the women’s podium at Kona 2017.

Heather Jackson: Heather had a breakthrough race in Kona last year to get on the podium improving on her fifth place in 2015. She has shown that she has cracked the code for performing well on the lava fields and has geared her season around peaking there again this year by not over-racing in the months leading up to it. If she can limit her loss on the swim (her one weakness), she can utilize her bike strength (which is arguably second to only Ryf) to create some separation on the fastest runners rather than just closing the gap, which will set herself up for another podium finish. History has shown that those that have finished in the top three in the past in Hawaii have the greatest chance of getting on the podium in the future, so Heather is definitely a good bet.

Second pick:  Sarah Piampiano. Sarah’s bike/run combo is one of the best in the field, but her ability to crack the top five has been limited by her losses in the swim. That said, she has shown that she can work her way through the field on her own and has two previous top 10s to prove it (seventh in both 2015 and 2016). Hard conditions on the bike will be to her advantage as she will have more time to claw back time from the swim. Her run is a weapon that can separate her from many of the other top 10 contenders if she is fully on her game.

Surprise pick: Jodie Robertson. Jodie is practically a rookie in the sport (third year in the sport, second year as a pro) and has already a big Ironman win to her credit with her victory at Ironman Texas in April of this year.  She comes from an elite marathoning background (2:34 PR) which gives her an edge on every other competitor in the field including Daniela Ryf.  She had a respectable 20th place in her debut in Kona in 2016, and her win in Texas shows she knows how to handle heat. Another year of accumulated cycling and swimming training coupled with her huge talent on the run, should propel her to a huge leap up into the top 10 contenders in Kona.

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