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Daniela Ryf was the only Kona rookie sitting on the pre-race pro panel yesterday, earning her way there with a fast track from ITU to long-course success this year—in an eight-week span, she won the 5i50 European Championship and Ironman Switzerland (in the same weekend), defended her title at Ironman 70.3 European Championship, won Ironman Copenhagen in August and two weeks later went from dark horse to champion at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont-Tremblant.
The 27-year-old Swiss 2008 Olympian went from proclaiming just months ago that she would never do an Ironman to being a threat on the starting line tomorrow, with the push from her coach, Brett Sutton. (Read Sutton’s thoughts on Ryf and the race here.) “Two and a half months ago I did my first Ironman and now I’m here, so it’s actually pretty crazy,” Ryf said at the press conference on Thursday. In addition to being new to Ironman, this is also her first time to the Big Island, leaving a lot unknown for Saturday. “I’m really excited just to race. I like racing hard. …I certainly know I have to go hard on the bike to have a chance to win. I’m going to give it a lot on the bike and we’ll see what happens on the run. I’m interested to see how I compete against them.”
Triathlete.com caught up with Ryf in advance of her first Ironman World Championship.
Triathlete.com: Multiple athletes who accomplished less than you in the ITU have gone on to win Ironman world titles. Do you think you have the abilities to make a similarly successful shift to IM?
Ryf: I believe I have more potential in the Ironman distance than I have in ITU. Racing ITU definitely made me tough, as it is brutal to race with those fast girls. I’m excited to see what I can achieve in IM and I’m very happy with my journey so far this year.
Triathlete.com: You recently said Ironman wasn’t in your plans. What changed?
Ryf: My goal this year was to win 70.3 Worlds and maybe try my first IM in Mallorca at the end of the season. But then my coach Brett Sutton started to tell me I should race Ironman Zurich in July. I thought he was crazy, as I didn’t feel ready yet. I did it and was totally surprised how good I felt. That’s where I started to realize these races suit me quite well, as I’ve always liked the hard long rides and long runs in training.
Triathlete.com: What did you learn from Zurich that you will take into this race?
Ryf: I had cramps in my calf on the bike at 10K. That was quite frustrating, as there it’s still a long way to go. I came good eventually and ended up having a great run. It showed me it doesn’t matter how bad you feel at one point, it can always turn around if you just keep pushing.
Triathlete.com: Your bike split in Zurich was the third fastest in a decent field, but you blew away many phenomenal cyclists in Mont-Tremblant. To what do you attribute the difference?
Ryf: I ride the IA from Felt and have strong legs and like to ride fast.
Triathlete.com: Brett Sutton has been publicly speaking about your chances very positively, even saying you could give a Chrissie-like performance in your second year. What does it make you feel about your readiness for the race to have him praising your fitness in this way?
Ryf: There’s nothing to hide. I know I’m fit, as I have seen it in Mont Tremblant. The key for me is to focus on race day. It doesn’t matter how good my chances are. It matters what I do with it when the race is on and how I will cope with the tough moments. My personal challenge is to have my strongest ride of the year.
Triathlete.com: What advice did he give you for this specific race?
Ryf: To not overthink it and just go out there and do what we do every day. Swim, bike, run.
Triathlete.com: Will you do a four-hour slow ride about five days in advance of the race?
Ryf: I believe Caroline Steffen has made that a regular part of her preparation. I hate slow rides, but we normally do something like this on race week. He’ll send someone with me to make sure I make it slow enough.
Triathlete.com: If you had to compare your skill set to another Ironman athlete, current or past, who would it be?
Ryf: My goal is to race like Chrissie one day. She’s an amazing athlete and I’ve heard lots of good things from Brett about her. Leading into Kona, I did a few Chrissie sessions, I’m not as fast as she is yet, but it’s my motivation to get there.
Traithlete.com: What do you have to accomplish in this race to consider it a success?
Ryf: Make the best out of every situation and take the opportunities when I see them.