Britain’s Kat Matthews became the first woman to complete the full-distance in triathlon in under eight hours as the 31-year-old demolished the target time to win the novel Pho3nix Foundation’s Sub8 event in Germany.
The Ironman World Championship runner-up from St George fought back to overtake London 2012 winner Nicola Spirig in the closing third of an epic one-on-one marathon and take the tape with almost half-an-hour to spare in a mightily impressive 7:31:54.
Spirig, a five-time Olympian, soldiered on bravely to finish just a couple of minutes behind in what could represent a worthy final chapter in a golden career.
The mum-of-three has announced that 2022 will be her final year in competitive triathlon, and with no other big events announced as yet it could be a fitting way to bow out.
Matthews, though, had a day to remember, from exiting the water ahead of the Swiss, to producing a 3:50:06 bike split with her support team of pacers.
It gave her a 3 1/2min lead on to the run, which was whittled away by Spirig who made the pass with around 10 miles to go and looked set for victory. But Matthews was not to be denied, fighting back for a historic victory in a historic time.
“There are a whole load of emotions right now,” Matthews said. “The main one is for the team around me. Of all the triathlons around the world this one is about the team.
“I felt I was letting them down. All day I was the limiter, but it was their strength on the course and side-lines that gave me the motivation to push on.”
How the race unfolded
The Pho3nix Foundation Sub7-Sub8 was an ambitious project to see what times triathletes could achieve over the full-distance triathlon.
The women started at 7am local time with the men an hour later meaning all athletes needed to finish before 3pm to break the Sub 8 and Sub 7 barriers.
There were several rules changes to a normal triathlon, the main one being that drafting was permitted on the bike leg.
For anyone still lingering under the impression it was to be a solo attempt, the team aspect was apparent from the off, as both women selected two swimmers to act as pacers.
It was also the start of a long day for twice European champion India Lee, who was the only triathlete in any squad who was down to play a part in all three disciplines – “my first Ironman” she joked in the build-up.
For the first mile, Matthews’ trio, led out by South African Sarah-Jane Walker who was followed by Lee, stayed level with Spirig and her pacers that included Britain’s swim ace Lucy Buckingham and two-time 25km open water world champion Angela Maurer.
The Swiss briefly opened a gap, but it was closed down by Matthews who held a 7sec advantage as she emerged from the water.
As the time trial pacelines set off, Team Spirig held the gap for the first 19km of the bike back to the Dekra Lausitzring, with Kat’s husband and team manager Mark admitting they went harder than planned at 47kmph for the initial section.
Yet once they got on to the fast oval of the test track the pace didn’t relent and they built a lead which grew to 4min over the 112m.
Spirig, who boasts a marathon PR of 2:37, set out fastest on the run clawing back about 15sec per mile over Matthews in the early stages.
When she made the pass with under 10 miles to go it looked as if it would be the latest victory in her impressive resume.
But Matthews refused to lie down and fought back to regain the lead and become the first woman ever to go under 8hrs for the distance.