My top USA female pIck is Heather Jackson:
Heather had a breakthrough race in Kona last year to get on the podium, improving on her 5th place in 2015. She has shown that she has cracked the code for performing well on the lava fields and has geared her season around peaking there again this year by not over-racing in the months leading up to it. If she can limit her loss on the swim (her one weakness), she can utilise her bike strength (which is arguably second to only Ryf) to create some separation on the fastest runners rather than just closing the gap, which will set herself up for another podium finish. History has shown that those that have finished in the top three in the past in Hawaii have the greatest chance of getting on the podium in the future, so Heather is definitely a good bet.
My top USA male pick is Tim O’Donnell:
Tim, like Heather, has statistics on his side in that he has been on the podium before (3rd in 2015), which gives him a strong probability for getting on the podium again. He does not have a weakness as he is a front pack swimmer, a strong cyclist, and has the marathon legs to back it up (2:51 in Kona in 2013). But there are three other factors that make him one of my favourites:
He is tenacious and a fighter; when he went through a bad patch last year in Kona, he lost a few places on the run but then pulled himself back together to finish 6th
He is coached by one of the greats in the sport, Mark Allen, who has given him the tools to master the physical AND mental demands of Hawaii.
And finally I believe that a happy balance in life reduces stress and frees up the body and mind to race at one’s best–having a healthy daughter added to the family in August will have him in excellent spirits.
If he can put all three of his best legs from the past into one race in 2017, he will be at or near the front of the race all the way to the finish.
My dark horse is Jodie Robertson.
Jodie is practically a rookie in the sport (3rd year in the sport, 2nd year as a pro) and has already a big Ironman win to her credit with her victory at Ironman Texas in April of this year. She comes from an elite marathoning background (2:34 PR) which gives her an edge on every other competitor in the field including Daniela Ryf. She had a respectable 20th place in her debut in Kona in 2016, and her win in Texas shows she knows how to handle heat. Another year of accumulated cycling and swimming training coupled with her huge talent on the run, should propel her to a huge leap up into the top 10 contenders in Kona.