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Both Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington defended their Ironman World Championship titles with victories on Saturday. In the process, Wellington broke Paula Newby-Fraser’s record with a time of 8:54:02. Australian Mirinda Carfrae also turned in a record breaking performance, earning second and posting a marathon course record at 2:56:51. All athletes battled hot, tough conditions throughout the entire day.
The day started out with the two dominant swimmers of the sport, John Flanagan and Andy Potts, emerging from the warm waters at 47:42 and 47:45. Australia’s Pete Jacobs and Great Britain’s Philip Graves headed into T1 at around the 50-minute mark. The main chase pack of 24 athletes marched out of the water 30 seconds later, and included defending champion Craig Alexander of Australia and Chris Lieto of the United States. Former champions Chris McCormack (Australia) and Normann Stadler (Germany) missed the main pack and immediately had work to do on the bike to catch the contenders ahead.
Once on the bike, 20-year-old Graves seized the opportunity to lead at the Ironman World Championship and rode to the front on the Queen K. Graves’ lead didn’t last for long and was overtaken by Germany’s Faris Al-Sultan. Al-Sultan also had limited time to enjoy the lead with Lieto using his power to move to the front. Unlike Graves and Al-Sultan, Lieto’s surge had staying power and he propelled himself to a permanent spot in the front. The American headed into T2 with a bike split of 4:25:10 and a 5:30 lead over Germany’s Maik Twelsiek. Twelsiek also posted an impressive bike time at 4:28:34 and headed onto the run comfortably in second place. Al-Sultan and McCormack followed in third and fourth. Then came the main chase pack that included Spain’s Eneko Llanos and Alexander.
Lieto took to the run course and quickly put his summer run training to work, while hoping the lead would be enough. At first glance it looked to be McCormack to challenge Lieto, with Alexander and Germany’s Andreas Raelert quickly working their way into the chase. After the turnaround point on Alii Drive, McCormack started to struggle and was forced to walk. Alexander and Raelert ran shoulder-to-shoulder to the Energy Lab, when Alexander finally decided to make his move and chase down Lieto. Once on the Queen K, Alexander passed Lieto. Lieto worked hard to stay on his heels, but eventually had to drop back to his own pace. Alexander posted a run time of 2:48:05, running his way from 10th off the bike to the top spot on the podium. Alexander’s time of 8:20:21 was slower than last year’s 8:17:45, no doubt due to the heat. Lieto maintained his stride and earned his best ever Ironman World Championship finish at second with a time of 8:22:56. Raelert also held strong, rounding out the podium at 8:24:32.
In the women’s race, the Czech Republic’s Lucie Zelenkova was the only woman to make the main men’s pack, giving herself a three and a half minute lead over the pack of Great Britain’s Leanda Cave and Rachel Joyce, Canada’s Tereza Macel, the United States’ Gina Kehr and New Zealand’s Gina Crawford. Reigning champ Chrissie Wellington of Great Britain was eighth out of the water and went onto the bike with less than four minutes to make up on Zelenkova.
Wellington immediately found her way to the front and rode away from the pack, at one point getting within 11 minutes of the lead men. Wellington posted by far the fastest bike split of the women and was the only to go under five hours at 4:52:06. Behind Wellington, Macel combined a solid swim with a steady bike to hold strong in second position. Wildflower winner Virginia Berasategui of Spain made up for a slow swim with a speedy bike ride to head onto the run in third position. Behind the uber bikers, fast runners Australians Mirinda Carfrae and Rebekah Keat, and Canadian Samantha McGlone all exited within the top 11 spots, but found themselves with what looked to be an impossible amount of ground to make up on Wellington.
Once the marathon began, it was clear that Wellington would carry her speedy pace from the bike to the run. Wellington started the run with a steady 6:30/mile pace, with her lead growing with every stride. While Wellington’s pace slowed from the 17-mile mark to the end of the marathon, her hard work had already paid off and she earned her third straight victory and established a new Ironman World Championship course record (8:54:02).
The battle for the women took place behind Wellington, with Berasategui and Macel running steady. As Macel began to fade, Berasategui looked to be running comfortably in second position. As many expected, Carfrae proved her half-Ironman running skills can translate to the Ironman distance as she surged her way to second position. Carfrae passed Berasategui in the final minutes of the marathon, posting a 2:56:51 marathon and establishing a new women’s marathon course record. Berasategui held on for third and a time of 9:15:28.
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Ironman World Championship
Kona, Hawaii – Oct. 10, 2009
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2 mile run
1. Craig Alexander (AUS) 8:20:21
2. Chris Lieto (USA) 8:22:56
3. Andreas Raelert (GER) 8:24:32
4. Chris McCormack (AUS) 8:25:20
5. Rasmus Henning (DEN) 8:28:17
1. Chrissie Wellington (GBR) 8:54:02
2. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 9:13:59
3. Virginia Berasategui (ESP) 9:15:28
4. Tereza Macel (CAN) 9:23:43
5. Rebekah Keat (AUS) 9:25:48*
*Rebekah has been disqualified. Please see related article for update.