It's that time again ... we're a week and a day away from the biggest day in Ironman racing and I can't wait. Our coverage of the Ford Ironman World Championship begins on Monday and will culminate in yet another full day of race coverage including live video, text updates, athlete tracking and live timing, photos and the always-popular Welchie-harasses-Kevin daily podcasts. And, yes, I'm sure we'll cover the annual underpants run.
As is my standard line when asked who is going to win the 2009 Ford Ironman World Championship, all I will say is this: I don't do pools and one-two-three predictions, but I will happily write and talk about what should, in theory, happen. Today I'll throw out some ideas about the women's race.
Which leads me to one, very simple opening statement: Are you kidding me? Based on the fast racing we've seen from the women's contenders this year, it's about the only question that makes any sense. When did women start averaging 38.6 km/ hour over 180 km on a bike and then follow that up with sub-three-hour marathons? In June defending Ford Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington easily won Ironman 70.3 Kansas. She probably made the trip so she could tell Dorothy and Toto that Ironman was undergoing a tornado of change.
Over the last two years we've seen the Ironman distance world best broken twice at an Ironnman distance race in Germany. Yvonne Van Vlerken did it first, going 8:46, then Wellington decimated that time with an other-worldly 8:31:59. Germany's Sandra Wallenhorst still holds the official Ironman world best time, her 8:47:26 won Ironman Austria last year. For the second year in a row, Scotland's Bella Comerford went way under nine hours, this time winning Ironman Austria.
Last year we were all asking these basic questions:Could Van Vlerken really compete with Wellington? Was Wallenhorst for real? Could Comerford, who won five Ironman distance races during 2008 be a factor at the world championship?
Unfortunately, Wellington wasn't interested in allowing us to have interesting answers to those questions. Even with a 10-minute stop on the side of the road to fix a flat, Wellington easily won, with Van Vlerken narrowly holding off Wallenhorst for second a full 15 minutes behind.
This year we could ask those same questions. My quick answers: my guess is Van Vlerken will be very fit and ready to try and move up a spot this year; Wallenhorst is very much for real; Comerford can compete with anyone, any time.
Here are some more that I'll add to the list:
Can Rebekah Keat, who provided Wellington with the CO2 cartridge that got her back on the road last year and who has finished second to Wellington in her last two Ironman (or Ironman distance) wins of 2009, add her name to the mix? My bet is that Keat has probably figured out one way to go for the win - ride by the next time Wellington needs some help on the road. Even without that, I'm going to answer yes to that one.
Here's another question for you: How good is Mirinda Carfrae? The 2007 Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Champion is making her Kona debut this year. She's good friends with Craig Alexander and is very likely to arrive in Kona with the same ability to be a factor. Crowie finished second in his first Ironman, as did Samantha McGlone, the 2006 Clearwater champ in her Ironman debut.
I'll keep asking. Is McGlone back? After time off thanks to an achilles injury she returned to Ironman racing in Lake Placid to get her Kona slot.
Another fun question. Has anyone else noticed how well Tereza Macel is racing? She led from start to finish in Lake Placid and Canada. You know that she's going to be in front down the Queen K next Saturday. My next question is, how long can she stay there?
How about Natascha Badmann? I have always said that you can't count her out in Kona. If she's recovered from her shoulder injury from a few years ago, it will be fun to see her racing with the world's best again. Michellie Jones? She won in Cancun a few weeks ago, looking very strong in the process. Care to count the woman with more triathlon wins than anyone out? Not me.
Can anyone else win? Absolutely. Anyone who has ever finished in the top 10 in Kona should likely be considered a contender. Yes, I know I probably haven't mentioned a few people that I should have (feel free to drop me a line with a reminder!), but I'll do my best to correct all that next week.
But, back to my original question. In answer, I think I can say this: no, they're not kidding. The top women in our sport are taking Ironman to a whole new level right now, one where women average 38 km/h on the bike and run sub-three hour marathons with relative ease. They're going to take all that impressive racing ability to the Ford Ironman World Championship next Saturday and we're going to get to enjoy watching it all unfold.
I can't wait.
You can reach Kevin Mackinnon at firstname.lastname@example.org