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Home / News / Olympics / Taylor Knibb thankful for Kona experience as she looks towards Olympics

Taylor Knibb thankful for Kona experience as she looks towards Olympics

The fourth-placed US triathlete felt that only the pressure of the Ironman World Championship could help prepare her for the uniqueness of Paris 2024

US pro triathlete Taylor Knibb on the bike leg during the 2023 Ironman World Championship in Kailua Kona, Hawaii
Taylor Knibb in her debut Ironman race at the 2023 Ironman World Championship in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. She would finish fourth. (Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images for Ironman)

USA’s Taylor Knibb said that fourth place in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii was the learning experience she needed ahead of next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

Rather than compete in the World Triathlon Championship Series finale in Spain over the same standard distance that will be used in the Games, the 25-year-old instead chose to focus on her Ironman debut on the Big Island, where her mum was also racing in the age-group ranks.

“The Olympics is very unique and the only other event in triathlon with a lot of focus and a lot of pressure and a lot of noise and a lot of media is Kona,” she explained. “I think in terms of preparing, if I went to another WTCS race, that’s great, but it’s not going to prepare me in that way [for next year’s Olympics].”

Already a two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion, Knibb qualified for the race in Hawaii after defending her 70.3 crown in Finland in August, and had learned to knuckle down and try to avoid too many other commitments.

“It’s hard for me to say no [to media requests], I don’t want to say no, but I have to learn. I think in terms of that it was a tremendous opportunity because there is no other opportunity like it.”

For much of Saturday’s race on the Big Island Knibb was in second place behind eventual winner, Lucy Charles-Barclay. It was only in the later stages of the marathon that she was passed by the two Germans, first 2019 champion Anne Haug and then Laura Philipp.

Knibb also headed five US women in the top 10, including Chelsea Sodaro (6th), Skye Moench (7th), Sarah True (8th), and Jocelyn McCauley (10th), as well as serving a 1min penalty for unintentional littering after losing hydration bottles from her bike. 

“I think everyone had challenges out there and I was fed a few. It was like, ok, how do you deal with that?” she said. “When I got on to the Queen K [the major highway for the 112-mile bike leg], I looked at the shadow [on the road] and I was like: “I do not have either of my rear bottles!”

Shown a yellow card after losing a third bottle outside the designated drop-off zones near the aid stations, Knibb then couldn’t stop at the first available penalty tent because it wasn’t yet ready to receive athletes.

“I was nervous that if I missed the tent I would be DQd,” she explained. “There were a lot of moving pieces.” Eventually she could pull in to serve the infraction just before the second transition, and still headed out on the marathon in second place.

“This is a very special race and I didn’t fully understand it before coming here,” she added. “But being out on the course I understand why it’s so important to the triathlon community. I couldn’t have any expectations because so much was unknown. When racing phenomenal athletes in a place that has unpredictable conditions, I didn’t know whether I was ready for this, and I think you saw on the last 4km of the run how my preparation was.”

Knibb’s self-deprecating comment belies the fact she still delivered a 10th best 3:05:13 marathon. Maybe not a race-winning split, but enough to give her a 8:35:56 finish time – the second fastest debut in Kona after Sodaro’s 8:33:45 winning time from last year.

What were Knibb’s thoughts heading along Ali’i Drive to the finish? “I was so grateful to be there, but my Garmin read 42.4km so I was like: ‘When is this coming?’ I know the marathon course is accurate, but this seems long. That’s what I thinking. I was so grateful to lie down.”

As for not having to race alongside a men’s professional field because of Ironman’s women-only commitment: “I did make the mistake of asking a few men this week whether they were racing. It’s just an easy thing to say. You look fit, you look ready, but no. It’s just a very different atmosphere and it was very nice not to have any men interfering with the race. It was one less thing to think about because there are a lot of things to think about out there.”

Top image credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Profile image of Tim Heming Tim Heming Freelance triathlon journalist


Experienced sportswriter and journalist, Tim is a specialist in endurance sport and has been filing features for 220 for a decade. Since 2014 he has also written a monthly column tackling the divisive issues in swim, bike and run from doping to governance, Olympic selection to pro prize money and more. Over this time he has interviewed hundreds of paratriathletes and triathletes from those starting out in the sport with inspiring tales to share to multiple Olympic gold medal winners explaining how they achieved their success. As well as contributing to 220, Tim has written on triathlon for publications throughout the world, including The Times, The Telegraph and the tabloid press in the UK.