Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironman preview: Stacked field expected on start line

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

(Editor’s Note: Live online coverage of the race begins at 6 a.m. Check it out at www.kona.ironman.com)

Triathletes are getting their game face on for the 34th annual World Triathlon Championship.

The race features 1,928 of the world’s top endurance triathletes, who will swim, bike and run one of the most notoriously tough courses on the race calendar. Ironman triathlons include a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike leg and wrap up with a full 26.2-mile marathon.

This year’s race could see repeat winners in the men’s and women’s divisions, or it could usher in a new era of younger athletes.

The men’s reigning champion and oldest winner, Craig Alexander, is back to defend his crown and is hoping to add to his three titles.

The women’s champion, Chrissie Wellington, said earlier this year she is concentrating on other priorities, leaving the door open for 2010 champ Mirinda Carfrae to steal back the crown.

Alexander owns the course record. He finished last year in 8 hours, 3 minutes, 56 seconds and became the oldest Ironman champion at age 38. Previously, the record belonged to Luc Van Lierde, who finished in 8:04:08 in 1996.

The women’s record belongs to Wellington, who stormed onto the scene in 2007, and set the best time ever at 8:54:02 in 2009. She broke the 9-hour mark for only the second time. Previously, only eight-time world champion Paula Newby-Fraser had broken the 9 hour mark.

Fans and pundits, however, can talk and analyze all they want. It just comes down to race day.

Meanwhile, many in the slate of professional and amateur triathletes are in Kona this week likely won’t be watching the clock. They are just trying to do their best, cross the finish line and hear Mike Reilly said those words: You are an Ironman!’

At a pre-race press conference, a handful of the top pros gave a peak into their preparation and their hopes for Saturday’s race:

* Craig Alexander

On athletes building their strategy around him:

A lot was made in 2010 about allegiances and this kind of thing. It’s a non-drafting race, and if everyone sticks to the rules it won’t matter. People who do well here race to their own strengths. We’ve all raced each other a lot. You know people’s strengths and weaknesses. If you’re smart, you’re going to race to your own strengths. There is a race going on, but you know your fitness levels, and hopefully you’re prepared to suffer because that’s what it takes.

On being motivated by Lance Armstrong to return to this race, and when his motivation shifted:

When I crossed the line last year, in my gut I felt I would come back. It’s inevitable when you’re 38 to have to answer questions about finding a green pasture somewhere and … for me what’s left to do is what there always was to do, becoming a better athlete. Having Lance here was exciting to me. I thought he would bring a level of professionalism we hadn’t seen. I thought what better way? Everyone’s going to have to fine-tune half a percent here and there. That being said he’s not here, and I’m going to have my hands full with the guys who are here. I love this race. It doesn’t take long to get my juices flowing just thinking about racing here.

* Andreas Raelert

On whether he thinks having his brother Michael here will help his race at all:

It doesn’t make it easier for me, but let’s put it this way, we have 50 professional athletes on the start line, and one of these guys is my friend, my brother. So that helps me. My best guess is we can hold this pressure on four shoulders, not on two.

* Pete Jacobs

On what he’s done to take his performance to the next level:

The last three years I’ve had injuries, this year earlier in the year. I’ve been building up for this race a lot longer than in previous years. It was great to be back running in April/May. More kilometers in my legs means hopefully I don’t see that pain and that quad shattering I had in the last 10K last year. I’ve had a really good taper and am freshening up really well. A month ago while these guys were racing Vegas I was right on that limit, getting a bit tight, but I moved through that and am really happy with where I’m at for Saturday.

On the duel between Crowie and Macca, and how that sits with him:

I look back over the years and say ‘well, if this or that hadn’t happened on the bike then I could’ve had a lot better result.’ Last year I was happy with podium and I got podium. This year I’m a lot more driven to win. Exactly that scenario of getting off the bike and running with Crowie and Macca — I’ve used that in training and in my visualizations. I’m in the best shape I’ve been here in Hawaii.

* Sebastian Kienle

On his recent Ironman 70.3 World Championship victory:

What worked in Vegas wouldn’t work here. If I do the same thing here, I think I’d have a nice little walk in the Energy Lab. I’m not here to break the bike record or have the fastest bike split, I just want to have a good finish and do what it takes. If that means being more patient on the bike than I was in Vegas, I hope I could do that.

* Jordan Rapp

A newcomer to this race, his thoughts on why he chose to compete this year:

More than anything I wanted to come and be respectful of the history of the race, and of the competitors — not just come as sort of a glorified vacation. I wanted to come when I thought I could put down a performance that was worthy of showing up. I thought I had a better run in me than I’d shown, and in Texas I put that down with a 2:46 and I thought OK, I can go and have the race that I know I have in me.

On how he sees the race panning out:

I’ll start to think about my finish, in terms of placing, when I have 10K to go. Before that I’m going to worry about just not being that guy that is a 2:46 runner who runs a 4:46 and ends up walking the marathon. I’m focusing on putting together a solid race until I hit the 20 mile mark, then I’ll look at who’s behind me and who might be up the road. It certainly is different being here as an athlete. There’s something pretty magical about this place and I feel privileged to be here as an athlete.

* Andy Potts

My preparation has been great. I’ve learned a lot over the last four years. I’m hoping to use my experience in Kona as an advantage. This year, I’m feeling like I’ve been riding better and that’s 56 percent of the race. But as soon as that canon goes off, it’s the same race for everybody. Every athlete is out there to test their body.

On being a top U.S. professional:

I think it’s important to have a strong presence in Kona. The U.S.A. is really where triathlon began, so to have an American do well here is really important. And I’d love to be leading the charge of American triathletes on Saturday.

Women’s Race

* Mirinda Carfrae

On how she’s been working on her bike:

I’m not exactly sure how much better my bike is. Certainly in training the numbers look better, and I’m performing better in similar training sessions as in previous years. While I know I’ve improved, I’m also very realistic, and understand that it doesn’t always come at six months, t comes at 12 months or a year and a half after working really hard at something. I just hope to continue to have good luck here on the island. I’ve had three really good years here. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Chrissie hurt that way before, and I think the other girls would agree that it’s always good to see Chrissie hurt.

On how she felt last year:

I felt a little nervous going into the race last year. Hopping off the bike 20 minutes behind Julie and 14 minutes behind Caroline, when we’d gotten out of the water together, that’s a lot of time to get back on the marathon. Mostly I was focused on Chrissie, but still, Caroline, the girl can run. Anything’s possible in this race and it just shows you have to push until the end.

On how her confidence has been affected by her season so far:

I’ve had a quieter year than in the past years, but I’ve made a lot of changes. I think you need to try different things in order to get better, and the result of that has been a bit of mixed bag. I had great races in June and July, but certainly in training is where I draw most of my confidence. Since July I’ve put in a fantastic training block.

* Kelly Williamson

On knowing she’s facing a runner like Carfrae:

Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t think I’ve run to where I’m capable in an Ironman, but I also haven’t really done a lot of them. I feel like I’m a much better athlete now, since my last one 11 months ago. That’s part of the excitement for me, is that I feel like I have a lot of potential that hasn’t been tapped at this distance. Again, for me it’s not just about the run though. If I want to have any hope of being in this race I have to swim and bike well, too.

* Leanda Cave

On how much more confidence she has coming into this race:

Coming out of Arizona with a sub-3:00 marathon really set the stage for me this year. I feel I can deliver no matter what the temperature and conditions are. I feel I’m ready to race here in much better mental shape than last year for sure.

* Caroline Steffen

On coping with Melbourne pressure:

It doesn’t weigh heavily on me. I felt way more pressure last year because I’d come second the year before.

Purse:

The men’s and women’s champions will each receive $120,000; runners-up are awarded $60,000 each.

Race start:

* 6:30 a.m. – Men professionals
* 6:35 a.m. – Women professionals
* 7 a.m. – Age groupers

— Find out more:
www.ironman.com

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