We continue our look at the top ten women likely to win be in with a chance of winning Kona this year...
7. Jodie Swallow, 33, Great Britain
As exciting a racer as there is on either start list, Swallow, fearless and full throttle, will certainly play into the race dynamic – but will have a tough task staying in it. Originally from Brentwood but now based in South Africa with partner James Cunnama, the question is not whether she helps lead the swim out but how hard she wants to push it.
Barring injury or incident, the first portion of the bike as they race to the turnaround at Hawi will be a similar tale, but it’s here where race management kicks in and where – despite Ironman success in Sweden in 8:54 last year and some fine 70.3 performances including a second in Mont-Tremblant in this year‘s world championships – she hasn’t quite solved the puzzle.
Swallow sensibly quit last year on the run having waterlogged her system, the health risks of which should never be understated, but she dearly loves a battle, knows she has to go hard from the front to have any chance of pressurising Mirinda Carfrae, and, while it’s unlikely she’ll be leading along Ali’i Drive, it will be fun (to watch) while it lasts – and her race report will certainly be worth a read.
6. Meredith Kessler, 36, USA
PurplePatch coaching Matt Dixon’s star pupil and how the coach would dearly love to have the San Francisco resident picking up the $120,000 winner’s cheque. It would also give hope to all age-groupers because for many of Kessler’s 52 iron-distance races she was trotting out 10-11 hours before the smart-thinking ex-swimmer from Southend took her under his wing.
Kessler will have few problems with the swim, can bike as powerfully as any of her competitors and with improved handling skills has the additional benefit of being able to mete out her effort more evenly. But at some point she does need to make a break, because as last year’s seventh showed after being unable to sustain her initial blazing run pace, a 3:16 marathon is not going to trouble the podium.
Kessler has raced more sparingly this year, with wins in Ironman New Zealand, the North American 70.3 Championships in St George and a fourth in the 70.3 Worlds in Mont-Tremblant, so she’s ready. All she needs now is the best race – and run – of her life.
5. Caroline Steffen, 36, Switzerland
A lot has changed in 12 months. Plucked from the age-group ranks by Brett Sutton, Steffen was still clinging desperately to the coach’s advice as a disintegrating Team TBB headed to Kona last year. Having (probably) unwisely raced in the sweltering heat of MetaMan in Bintan barely a month before, the Swiss finished a commendable fifth after suffering with stomach issues, but for a twice runner-up in 2010 and 2012, expectations were higher.
A new season brought a new coach and mentor in Chris McCormack, as Steffen raced to a flyer with victory at Ironman Melbourne, her second win in three years of the regional championships. Both student and coach will hope July’s venture to Roth, where her consistently strong bike legs failed to materialise and she was soundly beaten by 10 minutes by Carfrae, will be a brief hiccup.
Steffen has been out of the top five just once in 18 iron distance performances, so consistency is not a problem. If anyone can instil the self-belief required to win in Hawaii, then it should be McCormack, but there is a sense that, like Andreas Raelert on the men’s side, she missed an opportunity in 2012 (with Wellington retired, and Carfrae off-colour) that may not return.
4. Liz Blatchford, 34, Australia
The Great Britain athlete was one of the many who stepped up in distance, disenchanted by ITU-style draft-legal racing after a failed 2012 Olympic bid. And like plenty of others she quickly found she could not resist the urge to leap straight up to full iron distance. But the strong swim and run roots from standard distance competition have served her well and the switch has been met with instant success.
Coupled with a smart attitude, the Uplace-BMC team member can be leech-like (but legal) on two-wheels and offers a formidable threat. Blatchford biked within three minutes of Yvonne van Vlerkan, who posted the fastest female pro bike split, in last year’s race and showed she has the physiology required to perform well on the Big Island with a debut third.
That gave her a glut of qualifying points to avoid having to blitz her body with a heavy race schedule in 2014, allowing her to defend her Ironman title in Cairns and then focus on Kona. What has she learnt from last year? That a littering penalty costs four minutes. That was the mistake of a tired mind and won’t be repeated.
Click here to find out who our number one prediction is for Kona