It’s fair to say that the women’s race at the 2012 Ironman World Championships is harder to predict than in most recent years. Of course, last year Chrissie Wllington’s bike crash put the great one on the back foot. But despite her clearly visible war wounds when she lined up on Dig Me Beach, the intrepid Brit was still the favourite to retain her title. This year, famously, Chrissie has taken some time away from the sport and her crown will go elsewhere. But where? Of course, any one of the 31 women pro starters has a shot at taking the title. However, there are a handful of women who we believe stand out as favourites for the Kona crown in what promises to be a fascinating race:
Mirinda Carfrae (AUS)
Best Kona Result: 2010 Ironman World Champion
By her own very high standards Mirinda Carfrae has not had the greatest of years. Since splitting with her coach Siri Lindley at the end of 2011, Carfrae has been working with Mat Steinmetz on one very important aspect of her race: the bike. In years gone by Carfrae has habitually run her way into Kona contention (she boasts second place finishes in 2009 and 2011 to go alongside her 2010 win) and holds the current Kona course run record (2:52:09). Overhauling her training programme has not been easy on the Aussie and has taken its toll on her confidence. So, too, has a season plagued by illness (not to mention an Ironman 70.3 World Championship performance undermined by an experimental nutrition strategy). However, Carfrae is a fighter and she has been hitting numbers in training that indicate that she is not only stronger on the bike, but that her run has not suffered as a result. If she can pull it together on the day – and she comes off the bike close to Steffen et al – she will be hard to beat.
Caroline Steffen (SWI)
Best Kona Result: 2nd 2010
Many people’s favourite for the title, it’s hard to see anyone beating Caroline Steffen if she has a good day in Hawaii. In 2011 Steffen led the race until Mile 16 on the run after Julie Dibens pulled out with a foot injury. After first Wellington, then Carfrae passed her, the Swiss Miss – known in the triathlon world as Xena – faded to fifth as the injury that had plagued her throughout the year took its toll. She went away, and as is customary for Brett Sutton’s athletes, got her body ship shape and worked relentlessly on honing her performance. The result has been an impressive season that has seen her take home the ITU Long Distance World Championship, the Ironman European Championship, and – ominously for the rest of the field – Ironman Melbourne. Of course, that race was a while ago now, but Steffen dominated a field that included Mirinda Carfrae and Rachel Joyce. An outstanding swimmer, a powerful cyclist and an indisputably improved runner (Steffen took more than 20 minutes off her 2011 marathon time at Ironman Frankfurt) mark her out as the athlete to beat on Saturday.
Leanda Cave (GBR)
Best Kona Result: 3rd 2011
In 2011 Craig Alexander became the first person to win the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and Ironman World Championships in the same year. Leanda Cave is attempting to do the same thing in 2012 and after an outstanding performance in Las Vegas has the confidence to launch a serious bid for her fourth world title. Cave has enjoyed a good year punctuated by the odd injury or viral ‘blip’. However, none of that was evident in Vegas where Cave was simply untouchable. Her performance was all the more impressive given a disconcerting bout of asthma at the HyVee 5150 Championships just two weeks before the 70.3 Worlds which dented her confidence going into the race. Riding on a wave of optimism following her Vegas win, and with a 2011 Kona podium under her belt, Cave can attack the course with full knowledge that she can beat the best on the days that matter.
Rachel Joyce (GBR)
Best Kona Result: 4th 2011
Rachel Joyce is on a steady path to the Kona crown if history is anything to go by. A sixth followed by a fifth and a fourth in 2010 means that if her career continues to follow this trajectory she’s on for a third this year and should be a winner in 2014. However, Rachel has every chance of bucking that trend in 2012. Her preparation for the race has been nigh on perfect, helped in no small part by her relocation to Boulder. Rachel has been training at altitude in the Colorado Mecca, and according to coach Matt Dixon has responded excellently to these conditions. What’s more, she’s strung together a season of results that indicate she can threaten on the biggest stage of them all. A fifth in Abu Dhabi followed by a second in Melbourne was a good start to the season, but two 70.3 wins and an outstanding 8:45:04 victory at Roth – arguably the biggest race in long distance triathlon outside of Hawaii – underlined her Kona credentials and ability to win big races.
Mary Beth Ellis (USA)
Best Kona Result: 15th 2011
Most of the races that Mary Beth Ellis enters she wins. Of course, she doesn’t win all of them. But she wins a lot. And going into the 2011 Ironman World Championships she had blown away the fields at Austria, Regensburg and Canada in a late-season dash for Ironman points. A packed schedule took its toll and Ellis cooked herself en route to a below par 15th at Kona. 2012 has been a more measured year for the American. Once again she has raced and she has won, most notably at Ironman New York, Ironman Texas and the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon. But her preparation this year has been more measured. Ellis hasn’t raced since August, and has instead been training alongside Caroline Steffen with Brett Sutton. An outstanding athlete who knows what it takes to win an Ironman, Ellis cannot be ruled out of this race – particularly as this time around she comes in fresh.