Going into the 2010 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona Hawaii, the favorites for the men and women’s races were Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington. The challenge for the other professional triathletes was finding the chink in the armor of the multi-time winners.
Craig Alexander placed second to fellow Australian Chris McCormack in 2007. He returned and won back-to-back races in 2008 and 2009 by staying close on the swim and bike and then chasing down everyone else on the run.
British sensation Chrissie Wellington was a three-time champion in 2007, 2008, and 2009. She literally came from nowhere in 2007 to blow past the other women on the bike before crushing them on the run. In 2008 and 2009, Wellington dominated the other women to the point where the only question was who was going to get second, not who could hang with her.
2010 dawned with the news that Wellington would not be starting to defend her title. Word came from her camp that the champ was withdrawing due to flu-like symptoms. Suddenly, an already interesting women’s race became wide open.
The men’s race promised fireworks as well. Several racers looked to open a big lead on the bike, hopefully big enough to hold off the inevitable charge from Alexander.
American Andy Potts took off at the cannon, getting through the 2.4-mile swim in 48 minutes, well over two-and-a-half minutes over the pursuing pack. Potts was able to hold onto his lead until almost 20 miles into the bike race when the pack finally caught and dropped him.
Over on the women’s side, Brit Rachel Joyce led the pack with a swim of 52 minutes. The other women were right on her trail, as the top 10 women were all out on their bikes within 10 minutes of each other.
New favorite Julie Dibens, another Brit, flew by Joyce at the 12-mile mark. Dibens put the hammer down and buried the rest of the ladies, building a lead of over three-and-a-half minutes at the turnaround point on the second place rider, Australian Caroline Steffen. By the time Dibens got back to Kona to start the run, her lead had stretched to a few seconds under six minutes over Steffen.
The men battled on the bike contest before American Chris Lieto finally was able to drop his pursuers and enter the run with a three-minute lead over the second place rider, German Maik Twelsiek. Ominously, Craig Alexander finished the bike race 15 minutes back. In 2009, Alexander was 12 minutes back and was able to run down Lieto by mile 22. If he was going to repeat history, he was going to need to run even faster.
A surprising surge by another Australian, Chris McCormack, on the bike leg of the triathlon had him headed out on the run only 7:40 back of Lieto. McCormack, or Macca as he is known in triathlon world, is well known to be a great runner. After making the transition from the bike to the run, just 30 seconds behind Macca was another gifted racer, German Andreas Raelert.
Julie Dibens continued leading the women’s race until Australian Mirinda Carfrae reeled her back in by the 1-mile mark. Carfrae, who broke the record for the marathon leg in 2009, went past Dibens and never looked back. Dibens had never done a full Ironman before Hawaii and appeared to be feeling the pain after the effort of burying the field on the bike. Ironically, Dibens was using Wellington’s tactics and paid the price that never seemed to cost the latter.
At the 10-mile mark of the men’s marathon run, Macca had moved up to second place, only 40 seconds behind Lieto’s overall lead.
At the 12-mile mark, Macca caught and passed Lieto. Macca then started pushing the pace, putting a gap on everyone except Raelert and Alexander, whose paces were faster than Macca’s. Raelert was only just over two minutes behind Macca, while Alexander was over eight minutes behind him. Alexander was in danger of running out of time and distance to catch Macca because the gap coming off of the bike and into the run was so great.
At the 15th mile, Raelert sat less than 90 seconds behind McCormack. Defending champion Craig Alexander had cut the gap down to seven minutes but was quickly running out of real estate to hold onto his title.
McCormack and Raelert ran even from mile 18 until McCormack surged at mile 23, when Raelert had nothing left to stay with the Australian. Macca held on and won the marathon with a time of 2 hours and 43 minutes.
Macca finished the men’s portion of the Ironman Championship with an overall time of 8:10:37. He adds the 2010 title to his previous win in 2007, joining an exclusive club of multi winners in Kona.
Raelert held on to second place with an overall time of 8:12:17, less than two minutes behind McCormack and making 2010 one of the closest and most exciting in recent history.
Belgian Marino Vanhoenacker took the third spot on the podium with a solid 8:13:14, holding off an amazingly brave 2:41 marathon time and overall 8:16 time by the gutsy Craig Alexander in fourth place.
On the women’s side, Mirinda Carfrae built up her lead over Dibens and third place runner Steffen. Her victory run over the finish line held none of the drama of the men’s side, as she won in 8:58:36. Caroline Steffen passed Dibens to cross the line at 9:06. Dibens was able to pull herself together long enough to finish her first full Ironman in 9:10 and in third place.
In 2009, Chrissie Wellington won in Hawaii in a record time of 8:54:02. While that would still have put Mirinda Carfrae in second again, not having any reason to push over the last six miles meant Carfrae had no reason to go harder. If she was chasing Wellington, all bets would be off on whether the latter’s unbeaten IM record would’ve survived.
At the end of the race, Australia took the double home. Both McCormack and Carfrae earned their titles with strong overall races and courageous efforts. Although the race ended less than 24 hours ago for the professionals, I’m already looking forward to October 2011.
Here are the final men’s times:
1. Chris McCormack, AUS, 8:10:37
2. Andreas Raelert, DEU, 8:12:17
3. Marino Vanhoenacker, BEL, 8:13:14
4. Craig Alexander, AUS, 8:16:53
5. Raynard Tissink, ZAF, 8:20:11
And the final women’s times:
1. Mirinda Carfrae, AUS, 8:58:36
2. Caroline Steffen, AUS, 9:06:00
3. Julie Dibens, GBR, 9:10:04
4. Virginia Berasategui, ESP, 9:16:47
5. Rachel Joyce, GBR, 9:18:48