Can the Super-Mum overcome the Super-Hot triathlete in the battle of the women’s champions at next week’s Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand in Taupo?
Last year’s winner Meredith Kessler from the United States is back to defend her title but determined to add the full Iron distance victory to the title won when the weather-hit race was reduced to half the distance last year.
She will take on the 2009 IRONMAN New Zealand champion Gina Crawford, with the Kiwi star back to her winning ways after taking time out for the birth of her son.
Thirty-four year old Kessler is one of the hottest triathletes on the planet, recording three international victories in the last 12 months alone, and has been awarded the top seed for next week’s race.
She is determined to fulfil her role as defending champion.
“I feel like it’s a responsibility to just go out there, win or lose, and deliver the best performance that we can muster. That is always the goal,” said the San Francisco-based triathlete.
“In reality, it is a new year with new and consistent competitors so nothing can be taken for granted.
“IRONMAN New Zealand was a very special win for me in one of my favourite places, Taupo, so I will come in prepared to defend.
“My husband and I always wanted to go to New Zealand and racing has enabled me to visit amazing places like Taupo. New Zealand combines great areas to swim, bike, and run, along with our passion of wine. The clean air, inspiring views and friendly people make it an ideal place for us to come and spend some quality time – and to race, which is a win, win situation.”
Kessler followed her win in Taupo last year with victories in Utah and Coeur D’Alene, with the former age grouper now chalking up 11 podiums from 14 starts since turning to the professional ranks.
Canterbury triathlete Crawford has been awarded the No 2 seed and has a newfound determination for the sport since the birth of her son Benjamin in 2011.
Six months after the birth Crawford won in Wanaka, was fifth in the shortened Taupo race before placing fifth at IRONMAN Melbourne, second in Nice and a superb best of seven at the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii. She rounded out the year with wins in IRONMAN 70.3 Salzberg and Henley Iron distance and her sixth straight victory at Wanaka.
She credits her recent success to a smarter training schedule.
“My training is a lot different now than what it used to be. I think I used to over-train. I was always trying to put in big hours because I thought that was what it took to be an Ironman athlete but now my philosophy is a bit different because I like to spend as much time with Benji as I can,” said the 32-year-old.
“I do just 20 hours a week now, which is 10 hours less than before. I’ve been turning up a lot fresher.
“It’s really special to win the Ironman in your home country. I’d love to be able to win this title again. I love the swim and I love the run in Taupo and, even though I’ve struggled on the bike there, it’s a lovely place to race and I’ll be giving it my best efforts to reach for another win.
IRONMAN Australia champion Carrie Lester, another of the real comers in endurance racing, is seeded No 3 ahead of Japan’s Megumi Shigaki, who won the Strongman Japan title twice.
Much improved Cambridge triathlete Candice Hammond enjoyed her first international victory in Malaysia last year, was runner-up to Crawford in Wanaka and has been a top-10 finisher in the last two years. She is the fifth seed ahead of Australian-based Canadian Monica Dalidowicz, a PHD graduate who has decided on a career change after winning her age group at Cairns and
Auckland’s Melanie Burke could lay claim as the best amateur in the field, mixing sport with a fulltime career. Ranked No 7, Burke is a former international rower, who turned to multisport to win the national duathlon title on way to winning the world crown at the famed Zofingen long distance race. Burke also took on cycling, selected for the New Zealand team for last year’s road world championships.
Fellow Kiwis Anna Ross, who qualified for Hawaii at her first attempt last year, and the well-performed Janine Sax round out the seedings for next week’s race.
The 29th Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand has attracted 1435 starters from 51 nations with the women’s elite race starting at 6.45am on Saturday 2 March. The men’s winner is expected at 3.15pm and the first woman by 4.15pm, with a final cut-off of midnight for all participants.
For details: www.ironman.co.nz