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Injuries and retirement will keep some familiar names off the start line of the 2015 Ironman World Championship.
Who Won’t Be In Kona
For the first time since 2005, American Linsey Corbin will not be on the professional start list for Kona. A five-time Ironman winner, Corbin has battled illness and injury all season and is currently recovering from a stress fracture, which has kept her from being able to accumulate enough KPR points before the qualification deadline.
After finishing 12th on the Big Island last year, she came into 2015 with high hopes for her season, but she unfortunately missed out on the Ironman African Championships in South Africa due to a lung infection, finished 10th at the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship in St. George, Utah, but then suffered a hip flexor strain and withdrew from the Ironman North American Championship in The Woodlands, Texas. A stress fracture in her femur was discovered after she arrived back home. It kept her from racing before the final August deadline. “It has been really, really tough. I cried on the couch for a couple of days and then dusted myself off,” Corbin said on her blog. “It’s easy to look back at all the mistakes you made along the way. All you can do is learn from this and move forward. … The truth is I’m as hungry as ever. This setback has reminded me how much I love this sport, and I can’t wait to get back out there.”
In January, the two-time Olympic medalist from New Zealand announced on his website that he was officially retiring from the sport. He won the silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After the 2012 London Olympics, Docherty switched to long-course triathlon and had success from the beginning, earning a podium finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in 2012 and winning his Ironman debut at the 2013 Ironman New Zealand (while setting a course record). However, he DNF’ed in the Kona the last two years and won’t be making another attempt at the Big Island.
“This was certainly no easy decision as triathlon has been a major part of my life for over 15 years; however, with injuries outweighing winning results in the last season it seems like a great time to listen to this tired old body and bow out gracefully,” he wrote on his website. “There is no doubt I have more victories in me however over the last few years it has been increasingly more difficult to reach that form and even harder to hold it, ‘back in the day’ I could peak for months on end but nowadays I’m lucky to get a few weeks. The other major contributing factor was my family, although I had the complete support of my family I just wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices and miss out on things I would regret in later years. Triathlon is such a physically demanding sport and after a solid day/week of training I have always been torn between staying at home to recover or going to the park to play with my kids.”
Yvonne Van Vlerken
The Dutch pro, who finished fourth in 2013, actually qualified for the Ironman World Championship this year but declined her spot. She wrote on her German blog (translated to English by Trirating.com): “The race in Hawaii deserves 100 percent focus and absolute priority if you want to finish at the front. I only want to start when I have a chance for a top 5.” Van Vlerken has had a solid season since her DNF in Kona last year—she was second at Ironman Melbourne and won Challenge Roth. She also won Ironman Maastricht in her native country, which she said made her fulfill her main goals for the year. “Things are going to be different for 2016: For the first time I will completely focus on Kona,” she wrote.
In January, the Scottish pro announced she’s officially retiring from the sport of triathlon after more than a 10-year tri career. A two-time duathlon world champion who had a promising early tri career (and was even named by Chrissie Wellington as one of her top competitors) struggled with injury for 18 months before returning to racing in 2013. She finished on the podium at every race that year and had a strong 2014 season to qualify for both Ironman and 70.3 worlds. However, she finished 14th in Mont-Tremblant and DNF’ed in Kona.
She wrote on her website that she had recently become disenchanted with triathlon: “Over the past season I have struggled to be mentally focused on triathlon. Training, racing and traveling have not given me the same positive feedback, fulfillment and personal satisfaction that it has done in the past. I found myself questioning why I was training and competing. When I was standing on the podium projecting joy and enthusiasm, those feelings were not always reflected internally. When I failed to finish at the World Championships in Kona I was hugely disappointed, but I wasn’t as heart and gut-wrenchingly disappointed as I had been in previous years when things did not go to plan. … It’s time to change and to develop new opportunities to challenge myself.”
Last year really was Craig “Crowie” Alexander’s last Kona. In finish line interviews after tough finishes in both 2012 (12th) and 2013 (21st), the three-time Ironman world champ said he was undecided if he would return to the Hawaii Ironman. But with his son’s school start in Australia delayed by a year, Alexander decided with his family to race the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne in early 2014, which would leave open the possibility of racing Kona, then announced his retirement from Ironman immediately after his fifth-place finish. “I feel like my body is a rental car and I’ve been racing with the handbrake on for a while now,” he said after the Melbourne race. “I don’t want to be fifth; I want to be the guy on the podium spraying everyone with champagne.” At 41 years old, however, he raced in his final Kona and finished 13th. He did not qualify in 2015.
A Kailua-Kona local, Wee narrowly missed out on a Kona slot this year—she was four spots out of the 35 allotted slots (outside of automatic qualifying spots) for professional women. She had a decent season, starting with a top-10 finish at the competitive Ironman Melbourne, but she developed an injury that kept her from running and caused her to DNF at Ironman Texas. She bounced back with a podium finish at 70.3 Japan and a runner-up finish at Ironman Japan in August, but she couldn’t quite get enough points to get on the Kona start line. She finished an impressive 16th place year after squeaking onto the Kona start list (around 30th of the top 35), and she’s been a vocal proponent of the 50 Women to Kona movement, something that would have given her a Kona spot this year.
Iowa-based pro Tollakson has been a strong Ironman contender for the last several years, having earned Ironman victories such as the 2014 Ironman Mont-Tremblant. In recent years, he’s struggled with hip and back injuries (torn labrums, bulging discs), and he DNF’ed at Kona last year just two months after his Mont-Tremblant victory. This season, he finished 18th place at the Ironman African Championship in South Africa and seventh at Ironman 70.3 Vineman, but he was left far outside the 50 allotted slots for pro men. A father of two and an entrepreneur, he’s been spending much of his time this season helping to grow his bike brand, Dimond, which has top pros such as Jordan Rapp and Jesse Thomas on its roster.
After finishing 21st in his Ironman World Championship debut in 2014, Australian Reed re-shifted his focus back to the 70.3 distance for 2015. He got early wins at the Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championships, Ironman 70.3 Philippines and Ironman 70.3 Subic Baby and a controversial second-place finish at the very competitive Challenge Dubai. Reed discussed his decision to hold off on fully focusing on the Ironman distance with us earlier this year, saying “moving to Ironman racing involves a fairly big pay cut unless you’re winning most that you enter.” That said, Reed will eventually shift the focus to the sport’s biggest race. “…in the very near future I’ll be changing the way I train, scheduling my season very differently and throwing all the eggs in the Kona basket.” His coach Matt Dixon has said that he looks at Reed as someone who has potential to have great performances in Kona.
Editor’s note Sept. 15: We’ve added a few names to the list that were not included in this article’s first publication.
Austin, Texas-based pro Amy Marsh won’t be on the starting line this year because she’s in a fight for her life. On Dec. 23, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a type of fast-growing blood cancer in the bone marrow. She’s received chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, and her husband, fellow pro Brandon Marsh, has been updating their website, Team-marsh.com, with her treatments and status. Amy has been a top swim-biker at Ironman Hawaii and has placed as high as 10th (2012).
The American pro, also known as “Starky,” has been pretty absent from the racing scene since he pulled out of Ironman Hawaii last year during the bike leg due to stress fractures and a torn labrum. He currently holds the Ironman world record for the fastest bike split and was first off the bike in Kona in 2013. He had surgery during the off-season to repair a torn labrum and a bone spur on his femur, and his comeback race was Challenge Roth in July. However, he ended up having to walk during the marathon to not aggravate the injury that had just been repaired. He raced Ironman 70.3 Racine a few weeks later, finishing on the podium, and he appears to be back on an upward trajectory.
We didn’t know until the day after the German veteran pro dropped out in T2 during the Ironman North American Championship in The Woodlands, Texas, that it had been his last Ironman. The 2005 Ironman world champion, known for racing in Speedo-style bottoms, placed in the top 10 at the Ironman World Championship nine times during his 18-year career and was a fan favorite. But a lengthening list of injuries and moderate race results helped make the decision for him. “Yesterday I realized, ‘OK, I’ve had so many bad races, and I can’t stand having one more bad race,’” Al-Sultan told Bob Babbitt in a post-race interview. “I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished.”
Who Will Be In Kona
The Belgian pro is on the Kona start list this year after frustrating experiences in his last two races on the Big Island. In 2012, Vanhoenacker was leading the race solo on the bike and well into the run when he had one of the biggest meltdowns in recent memory just before the Energy Lab at mile 17. He didn’t race in 2013 due to a stress fracture that kept him from running, and after the 2014 race, an emotional Vanhoenacker, who holds the record for the fastest Ironman-branded race, told Triathlete.com, “I just wanted to finish because I’m not coming back here.” He finished 34th after a run-walk marathon. “I’m done with this race. I don’t want to go through this again.” He’s had a strong season, with sub-eight-hour victories at both Ironman Brazil and Ironman Austria, but we’ll see if Vanhoenacker still has the Kona curse.
In 2013, it appeared the Danish pro was on her way to a top Kona finish, after she won both the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Barcelona and the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt. Then on a training ride a month out from Kona, she crashed her bike while dodging a group of kids. It left her with bleeding on her brain, among other injuries, and doctors put her into a medically induced coma to give her brain a chance to heal. She woke up almost a month later and was told she wouldn’t walk again, but she’s defied the odds and started racing again in 2014. She earned 70.3 victories last year as well as the title of ITU Long Course world champion. This season, she was fourth at the Ironman African Championship in South Africa and won three Ironman 70.3 races, including the European Championship in Weisbaden. We’re excited to see what Pedersen can do at her Kona comeback race.