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15 Kona greats of all time: Chrissie Wellington

Just who are the greatest Ironman World Championship triathletes ever? We have argued, debated and discussed the many contenders, and come up with our top 15 Kona greats of all time - do you agree with our choices?

5. Chrissie Wellington

Ironman World Champion 2007, 2008, 2009 & 2011

With four Ironman World Championship wins, Chrissie Wellington has to be listed as one of the Kona greats of all time. Born in 1977, Chrissie had a sporty childhood in rural Norfolk, swimming for her local club in her teens. After gaining an MA in development studies she worked as a government adviser for international development policy at the age of 25. A sabbatical followed in 2004, soon after her first triathlon at Dorney Lake (where she finished third). She was hooked and in 2006 she won the Olympic-distance age-group World Championships.

The following year, in August 2007, she turned pro and her coach Brett Sutton sent her off to Korea to compete in her debut Ironman; in a sign of things to come, she won by 50 minutes and beat all but six of the men. That win enabled her to qualify for Kona in October. Entering as a newbie she went into win the race at her first attempt by a margin of 5mins. This was the start of a string of 13 victories at every iron-distance race she entered.

‘I want to cross the finish line feeling like I’ve given it physically and mentally absolutely everything. This year, I couldn’t have given any more.’ After three wins in a row at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii (2007–9), that seems a strange thing for British racing great Chrissie Wellington to say, but she had finally got her wish in 2011.

Two weeks before the 2011 race, the 34-year-old was in the ‘best shape of my life’; then a training ride crash left her with a battered body and a torn pectoral muscle. Ten days before the race, her infected leg was twice its normal size. With five days to go, she had to be lifted weeping out of the pool by her coach Dave Scott and boyfriend Tom Lowe.

It didn’t stop Chrissie and she was four minutes behind reigning Ironman world champ, Mirinda Carfrae after the swim in Kailua Bay. Suffering from hip, back and calf problems, she plugged away on the bike and entered T2 in sixth, three minutes ahead of run course record-holder Carfrae.

Wellington went through the first half marathon in 1:22hrs before Carfrae started chipping away at the deficit. ‘Chrissie’s body was finally starting to shut down. She just had to hang on,’ Dave Scott observed from the side-lines. 

Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If ’ inscribed on her water bottle, she dug deeper into her mental and physical reserves than ever before. Only at the top of Palani Hill late in the run could Chrissie start to acknowledge her victory. In spite of the physiological and psychological toil, her 8:55:08 time was only a minute off her own course record. ‘Hopefully this has shown that I’m human,’ she said after reaching the finish and before being hooked up to an IV drip.

That epic encounter was be Wellington’s Ironman finale: her unprecedented 13th victory in thirteen Iron-distance starts. ‘As I crossed the line I felt a weight lift off my shoulders, and not just because I’d won: because I’d defied what I thought I could achieve’, as she wrote in her retirement statement.

Chrissie’s greatest race

220 SAYS: If Chrissie Wellington’s career was relatively short in comparison to fellow Hawaii immortal Paula Newby-Fraser’s, her lasting impact is incalculable. She showed the political passion of Erin Baker when promoting women’s sporting equality and the smiles of Natascha Badmann on the race course, and she proved that the girls could beat the boys at sport with her reliable ability to ‘chick’ all but the very top male athletes.

Continue reading our guide to the 15 greatest Kona triathletes of all time  (12/15)   


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