Slowly but surely this year’s Ironman World Championship field is taking place. But there are a few noticeable absences. With injury and USADA allegations keeping some of the top contenders on the bench this year, is Kona 2012 going to be any less competitive?
Who might not be in Kona:
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, you know that the seven-time Tour de France champion faces sanction from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and has been banned from Ironman events until the resolution of the investigation. While World Triathlon Corporation (owners of Ironman) had the option to allow Armstrong to race its races, CEO Andrew Messick released a statement that said: “Our rules, as stated in the WTC Professional Athlete Agreement and Waiver, dictate an athlete is ineligible to compete during an open investigation. Armstrong is therefore suspended from competing in WTC-owned and licensed races pending further review.” Until the allegations, Armstrong’s season had looked promising, having just won Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, but now his chances of making it to the Kona start line are slim.
After spending most of 2011 and early 2012 dealing with an injury, Chris Lieto hasn’t been able to race a full Ironman to validate his start in Kona this year. In an interview with Triathlete.com, he said, “It’s highly unlikely I’ll be racing the Hawaii Ironman this year.” The injury is a “lower leg tightness,” which he suspects has manifested in Achilles tendonosis. “I’ve been able to train and race but have always been dealing with a limited ability to train and run, having to cut things back or do things delicately or adjust. … I’ll just focus on 70.3 worlds and there are plenty of races going on around the Ironman Hawaii that I can focus on, as well as coming back next year full force there.”
German Andi Boecherer finished eighth at the Hawaii Ironman last year, but he has yet to validate his Kona slot. “I am having a tough season; I am still working on a shin injury that keeps me from running,” Boecherer told Triathlete.com. “But it is healing quite well.” He hopes to be ready to race the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Weisbaden, and then the Ironman Sweden in Kalmar in August. “If I should make it to the starting line healthy, Kona qualification is still in reach,” he says.
After one of the most gutsy performances ever seen on the Big Island, the four-time Ironman world champ (who’s undefeated at the iron distance) announced in January that she would be taking a break from Ironman. She’s spent the year working with charities and promoting her book, A Life Without Limits.
After dropping out of the Ironman World Championship last October, Dibens announced in March that she had undergone surgery to correct the foot injury that had plagued her since 2004, as well as a knee injury. The surgery is keeping her from running for six months, so she hasn’t been able to get any racing in this season to qualify for Kona, but she hopes to fit in some races before the end of the year and will definitely be ready for Kona 2013.
After an impressive early-season win at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon in March, Butterfield’s first season back after giving birth to her daughter seemed off to a great start. She aimed to race Kona this year, but after two disappointing Ironman races back-to-back in Europe, she didn’t have the points to be in the top 30 pro women. She announced she would be focusing on Hy-Vee, the 70.3 world champs in Vegas and short-course events for the rest of the year. She might also make her off-road triathlon debut at the Xterra World Championship in October.
Who will be in Kona:
While the men’s race won’t have as much drama as we were hoping, it will still have defending world champion Craig Alexander. Two-time Ironman world champ Chris McCormack has confirmed that he still plans to race after not making the Australian Olympic team. Between the two Aussies, they’ve won the last five Konas. Another top Aussie, Pete Jacobs (runner-up last year) will be there and looking to move one spot up the podium. This might be the year the Germans regain the crown, with Andreas Raelert not recovering from breaking the iron-distance world record. He won Challenge Kraichgau (a half-iron-distance race) in June and followed that up with a fourth-place finish in a tough field at the Ironman Frankfurt European Championship earlier this month. His younger brother Michael Raelert made his highly anticipated Ironman debut in Regensburg in June and finished second to veteran long-course pro Dirk Bockel of Luxembourg (who finished fourth in Kona last year). Germany’s Timo Bracht also got the win at Ironman Western Australia in late 2011 and put in an impressive runner-up performance at Challenge Roth this month. With other top names such as Belgians Marino Vanhoenacker and Frederik Van Lierde, Aussie Luke McKenzie, South Africans Raynard Tissink and James Cunnama, Great Britain’s Tom Lowe and Spain’s Eneko Llanos, the field is still stacked and will make for another exciting race this October.
On the women’s side, we’ve known since early this year that the queen of Ironman won’t be defending her crown this year. That leaves the 2010 champ, Mirinda Carfrae, to step up in her place. She’ll have tough competition from Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen, who has victories at Ironman Melbourne and Ironman Frankfurt this year, and who was runner-up to Carfrae in 2010. British athletes Leanda Cave (who got third at Kona last year) and Rachel Joyce are looking strong this season. And so far this season, some of the American women have looked healthy and strong, including Linsey Corbin, Meredith Kessler and Mary Beth Ellis (the last American to win in Kona was Tim DeBoom in 2002). Also watch for Canadian Heather Wurtele, who finished eighth in Kona last year—her two Ironman St. George titles have shown she can handle the wind and a tough course.