This past weekend marked the official start of the Ironman season with races in San Francisco, Abu Dhabi and Taupo, New Zealand. After face planting on the sand stairs and thinking she broke her nose, Heather Jackson caught up to Olympian Sarah Groff at 2 miles to go in Alcatraz. Not wanting to sprint against the short course speedster, Jackson surged ahead to take the win. Ricarda Lisk of Germany took 3rd, while Ironman World Champion Leanda Cave finished in 10th place. Cave has recently been treated for skin cancer and perhaps this was the reason for not being able to defend her title from last year.
Another short course champion, Javier Gomez, was in the top of all 3 diciplines to take the victory with just over one minute to spare from New Zealander Graham O’Grady. Jesse Thomas put forth a strong effort for third and World Champion Pete Jacobs came away with 4th. Of course, I’m still wondering why Andy Potts, the man who has been dominating this race for the past several years, wasn’t on the start line, although he was at the race with sponsor commitments.
Meredith Kessler returned to Taupo to prove that she could dominate New Zealand at the full distance to compliment her race shortened 70.3 win from last year. With 7-time winner Jo Lawn not on the start line, she still had to worry about local Gina Crawford. But Kessler, one of the best swimmers on the circuit, came out of the water 4th over all and hardly looked back until she started struggling late into the run. She still held on for a comfortable lead over Crawford with Candice Hammond taking 3rd.
New Zealander Bevan Docherty sought to take the local-man’s title away from race favorite and 11x champion Cam Brown in his Ironman debut. Docherty showed he won’t be the unproven dark horse at Kona this year, with a solid 10 minute win over Marko Albert (Estonia) and nearly 20 minutes over Brown. Even with his celebrating finish, he broke Cam’s course record by over 2 minutes. Contender and local Terrenzo Bozzone was perhaps still feeling the effects of an early season crash and dropped out after the first lap of the run.
The sweltering heat of Abu Dhabi did not deter many Kona favorites for an early season hit. Melissa Hauschildt will be at the start line at Kona this year, and shows that her bike prowess is not merely in the shadows of her dominating run. Caroline Steffen, building up for Melbourne, took 2nd as she did last year. Michelle Vesterby (DEN) worked hard to take third over Heather Wurtele (CAN) and Yvonne Van Vlerken (AUT) not far behind.
With last years champion Rasmus Henning retired, the crown (and the money) was up for grabs. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) raced hard to take the win, with Eneko Llanos (ESP) and Tyler Butterfield (BER) taking 2nd and 3rd respectively. Chris McCormack DNF’ed for the 2nd time in a row at this race, which was disappointing, but I’m sure we’ll see him back at the front soon.