Chelsea Sodaro delivered a brilliant marathon to be crowned Ironman world champion at her first attempt and become the first American-born woman to win the title for 27 years.
The 33-year-old Team BMC triathlete from Nevada put in an inspired performance to ward off Lucy Charles-Barclay, who in turn held off 2019 champion Anne Haug to clinch a fourth consecutive runners-up spot in Hawaii.
It also meant that Sodaro – who gave birth to daughter Skye 18 months ago – was the first triathlete to win on debut since Chrissie Wellington in 2007.
On an historic day that saw the first standalone women’s race in the event’s history, Sodaro’s finish time of 8.33.46 was the second fastest winning time in Kona. It was capped by a 2:51:45 marathon, just a minute outside Mirinda Carfrae’s run course record.
Pre-race favourite and five-time Ironman world champion Daniela Ryf led into T2 but quickly faded on the marathon, while heavily fancied German Laura Philipp had her hopes dented by a 5min drafting penalty early in the bike leg before running through for fourth.
What happened in the swim?
There was no surprise to see Charles-Barclay go full gas from the gun, but the gap created in the first few hundred metres didn’t extend a great deal over the 2.4 miles.
That was largely due to the efforts of Lauren Brandon, as the US triathlete led a line of four including Britain’s Fenella Langridge, New Zealand’s Rebecca Clarke and Brazil’s Pamela Oliveira.
Charles-Barclay was first out of the water in 50:57 – almost 2min slower than her swim in 2019 – with Brandon next on to the Kona pier 40secs behind.
The additional swell made the swim more challenging than on recent previous visits to the Big Island and the next pack headed by USA’s Hayley Chura was almost 3mins back.
Chura, who led out of the water in St George in May, was joined by a clutch of fellow Americans including Jocelyn McCauley, Sodaro, Sarah True and Skye Moench.
The surprise was how far the third group containing Ryf was behind – a sizeable 7mins – as Denmark’s Maja Stage-Nielsen led the reigning champion, as well as Haug and Philipp into T1.
What happened on the bike?
Langridge made her intentions clear by whipping through transition and closing the gap to Charles-Barclay at the front.
Behind them Brandon and Clarke slipped to 2mins back over the first 25 miles, with a group of five including Olympic 2012 silver medallist Lisa Norden and 2019 third-placer Sarah Crowley 90secs further behind.
Philipp was one of the fastest on course for the first 30 miles of the bike leg before being handed a 5min penalty along with Crowley for the first of a fistful of infringements that were handed out. Norden would soon follow them into the sin bin.
While Charles-Barclay and Langridge were holding strong at the front, it was Ryf on the charge as they headed into the second half of the bike.
Sodaro, a renowned runner who had set the second fastest Ironman debut on record in Hamburg earlier in the year and said she wasn’t feeling any pressure ahead of the race, was also moving well, with Sweden’s Sara Svensk, Moench, McCauley and the dangerous Haug all within 5mins of the lead.
There was under five miles to go when Ryf caught Langridge and Charles-Barclay, with the Brit staying with the Swiss into T2 and her fellow Langridge just 1min back. Norden and Sodaro led the chasers a further 2min adrift.
What happened on the run?
While Ryf headed out of transition in the lead it was soon Charles-Barclay who seized the initiative on the marathon to open a gap on the out-and-back section on Ali’i Drive.
By the 5-mile mark Sodaro was already in second place and running faster than anyone on the course, and took the lead just after the climb up the hill at Palani.
Past halfway and, while 2019 champion Haug was laying chase in third, Sodaro was still opening the gap at the front.
After 18 miles the German looked set to pass Charles-Barclay for second, but the resilient Brit refused to yield and stayed strong as they ran back down Palani hill to clinch a fourth successive runner-up spot in Kona.
Haug finished for third, while Philipp was best of the rest after fighting back from that penalty early on the bike.
The best of the rest included Norden (fifth), Langridge (sixth), Crowley (seventh), while Ryf had faded back to eighth. Moench and Brit Laura Siddall rounded out the top 10.
As for the other Brits racing in the women’s race, Susie Cheetham finished 11th, Ruth Astle 14th and Chantal Sainter 29th.
Top image credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for Ironman