by Jennifer Ward Barber
Germany's Sebastien Kienle and Australia's Mirinda Carfrae shared the highest honors today among a field stacked with former Olympians and IRONMAN champions at today's IRONMAN World Championship presented by GoPro. Hawaii's legendary triathlon course delivered just the kind of hot, windy conditions for which this race is so revered.
The women's race kicked off with the same kind of close racing dynamics that would characterize its finish nine hours later. Expected swim leaders Jodie Swallow, Meredith Kessler, and Amanda Stevens used their swim strength to lead the field through choppy conditions. The three came out of the water within seconds of each other, with a group including Mary Beth Ellis (USA), Liz Blatchford (AUS) and Gina Crawford (NZL) 30 seconds back. Pre-race favorites Rachel Joyce (GBR) and Caroline Steffen (CHE) exited the water two minutes back.
On the bike, two chasers had the lead women in their sights from the get-go, and ended up being the ones to fear in the lava fields: Relative newcomer, 27-year-old Daniela Ryf of Switzerland, and 2013 IRONMAN World Championship runner-up, Joyce. The two overtook the early leaders Swallow, Ellis, and Kessler, and began to put time into the experienced athletes Steffen and Blatchford behind (not to mention the best runner in the sport, Mirinda Carfrae). Ryf, who is coached by Chrissie Wellington's former coach, Brett Sutton (and openly aspires to the Brit's dominance), was off the bike with a race-best performance of 4:54:33, a two-minute cushion over Joyce, and a healthy three-plus minutes to the rest of the top 10. All eyes were on Carfrae's 14:30 deficit off the bike.
On the run, Joyce dug hard to put time into Ryf, but the leader never surrendered her lead over the Brit. The story of the women's race was, for the second year in a row, Carfrae, who demonstrated remarkable strength after a taxing bike ride. She used her record-setting 2:50:27 marathon to chase down Ellis, Swallow, and Steffen, and Joyce. The Australian, who knows how to hunt from the back, passed Ryf just three miles from the finish.
Carfrae's 9:00:55 finish was good for her third IRONMAN World Championship win, putting her in the company of only three other women in history. "Honestly I have no idea how I got that done," Carfrae told the crowd after the race. "I just thought top five would be good. Then I thought top three would be great. They had me running scared the last four miles. I would've liked to have relaxed but there was no chance of that. I knew it would be a battle to the finish line."
Ryf crossed the finish line of her IRONMAN World Championship debut just two minutes later, and Joyce, a veteran of the Big Island, finished just over a minute after Ryf to take third.
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