Typically, when something newsworthy happens on the Florida panhandle, it involves pet alligators, bath salts, Waffle House, or some combination of the three. This weekend, the area garnered international [triathlon] headlines for a different reason: Ironman Florida was one of the most thrilling races of the year. And it was broadcast live on the interweb for everyone to see—with coverage that was actually pretty darn good. Look at our little sport growing up.
Ironman’s decision to make certain races pro men or pro women only wasn’t popular when it was announced more than two years ago, but it’s proven to be great for the pros on course and those of us watching at home. We all know what happens when a handful of cameras are trying to cover both the men and women on the same course: The women’s coverage gets put on the backburner because it’s much easier just to follow the pointy end of the race.
With only the pro men to cover in Panama City Beach on Saturday, we actually got to see the race unfold and the commentators weren’t left clueless about what was happening among the women. You can expect equally-improved coverage at the pro women-only race at Ironman Arizona in two weeks.
Splitting the pro races also makes for better fields, because the $50,000 prize purse isn’t being split up between both genders. We had a stacked field racing on Saturday—both because of the opportunity to fatten up the wallet before the holiday season and because there were two Kona slots for 2020 on the line. As Ben Hoffman put it after the race, “It opens a lot of doors to have the Kona box ticked this early.” More on that momentarily.
Joe Skipper’s performance in Panama City Beach was the second-best Ironman race I’ve seen in 2019, behind only Frodeno’s record-breaking day in Kona. His 7:46:28 finish took nearly six minutes off of an already very fast course record, and he did it after exiting the water four to six minutes behind his main rivals. Not even an all-time great ride by Andrew Starykowicz (4:01:19—a 27.9 mph average) nor an all-time great run by Ben Hoffman (2:36:09—a 5:57/mile pace) could keep Skipper from the top step of the podium.
Skipper running a 2:39:01 marathon off a 4:05:51 bike is simply insane, especially just three weeks after a sixth-place showing in Kona. It’s even more insane than Hoffman running a 2:36:09 marathon to overcome a 16-minute deficit, or Starykowicz finishing in 7:56:32 and still not qualifying for Kona. It’s part of what makes the new qualifying format great, and Starykowicz would be the last to complain about it.
With Skipper and Hoffman punching their 2020 Kona tickets 11 months in advance, they can have some fun and choose whatever “A” race they’d like next summer. I’d be very surprised if they both don’t choose Challenge Roth. No American—male or female—has ever won Roth, and no British man has ever won. Skipper has raced in Roth three times, finishing second twice and fourth once. Hoffman has never competed at triathlon’s other Super Bowl. Don’t be surprised to see 2018 Roth champion Sebastian Kienle return to reclaim his title, either. As the kids say: It’s gonna be lit.
Ashleigh Gentle no doubt has Olympic-medal potential, but her real talents might lay in non-draft racing. At just 29-years old, she now owns a record seven Noosa titles, breaking the record of six held by her former coach Craig Walton.
The Noosa Triathlon Festival is one of the longest-running and largest triathlons in the world, celebrating its 34th year last weekend. Located on the Queensland coast, Noosa has become the hotbed of Australian triathlon, kind of like an Aussie version of Boulder (minus the Subarus, foodies, and marijuana dispensaries).
Fellow Aussie Olympic-medal hopeful Jack Birtwhistle won the men’s title, edging out South African Olympic medalist Henri Schoeman.
Ironman 70.3 Buenos Aires
Americans Rodolphe Von Berg and Chelsea Sodaro have both had breakthrough seasons in 2019 and have emerged as two of the top 70.3 specialists in the world. As long as none of those pesky ITUers step up in distance, they’re favorites to win almost every time they toe the line.
Sodaro—a former professional runner who has proven to be a quick study under coach Matt Dixon—won her third 70.3 of the season on Sunday, taking the Ironman 70.3 South American Championship by more than 10 minutes over Brazil’s Pamella Oliveira. Sodaro also finished fourth at the 70.3 world championship in Nice. Oliveira narrowly held off Canada’s Tamara Jewett, who closed with a jaw-dropping 1:17:55 half-marathon, which was 98 seconds faster than Sodaro.
Von Berg raced neck-and-neck with Spain’s Pablo Dapena Gonzalez and Brazil’s Igor Amorelli in the swim and on the bike, before pulling away from the pair with a speedy 1:10:56 run. It was the third 70.3 victory of the season for Von Berg, who finished third in Nice.