Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironman: Hot racing at the Honu (June 5)

(Dawn Henry previews the pro field for this weekend’s Ironman 70.3 Hawaii)

The spectacular sunsets, the stark lava fields, the warm, crystal blue water, the generous aloha of the Hawaiian culture, the opportunity to race international competition on the famed Queen Kaahumanu Highway – there is nothing not to like about the seventh annual Ironman 70.3 Hawaii.

And word has gotten out about this most idyllic and challenging of 70.3 events. On Saturday, June 5, more than 1,300 competitors will join together for the mass start in the sparkling water of world-renowned Hapuna Bay to begin their day of swimming, biking and running through one of triathlon’s most extraordinary playing fields.

Racers will start the day in a bay that is frequented by manta rays, green sea turtles, (the Hawaiian “honu”), monk seals and scores of tropical fish presenting every color of the rainbow.

Competitors will then climb their way through the desolate and wind-swept lava fields to the tiny former plantation town of Hawi, before descending the ocean-side hills to finish their ride on the manicured lawn of the elegant The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii.

The run course takes place on coastal pathways, over award-winning golf fairways, past petroglyph fields and tidal basins and always under the intense, beaming Hawaiian sun. This undulating, sun-adorned course of ever-changing topography requires mental as well as physical toughness.

The Ironman 70.3 Hawaii always attracts a competitive pro field, and its 2010 line-up will again give spectators something to watch.

In the women’s field, 12-time Ironman distance champion Belinda Granger will return to defend her title, which she won last year by out-biking and out-running Samantha McGlone, who had won here in 2007 and 2008.

Granger, 40, is already blazing her way into 2010. Granger added another Ironman champion title to her books this February at the Ironman Langkawi Malaysia and went on a few weeks later to win the Ironman 70.3 China. She looks to be in top shape as she returns to this Big Island stage.

Granger will certainly have some competition in the women’s field this year.

Among them, Kona’s own Bree Wee is ready to race and looking for her first 70.3 win on her home turf. Wee first raced as an amateur here in 2007, finishing third behind Samantha McGlone, then-current 70.3 World Champion and Michellie Jones, then-current Ironman World Champion.

Wee absolutely loves to compete in her hometown and she’s got to be hungry for another strong performance on this course. In 2008, Wee was unable to start due to illness, and in 2009, she dropped out during the run because she was not feeling well.

So far in 2010, Wee had a first place finish in the Olympic-distance Lavaman Triathlon Waikoloa on the Big Island and then went on to lead the pack at Ironman South Africa until fading on the run and ultimately finishing in eighth place.

In addition to Wee, Granger will have to keep a close eye on Belgium’s Sophie Goos, who has come to Kona early this year to get ready to compete in Saturday’s 70.3 as well as to scope out the Ford Ironman World Championship course on which she plans to compete in October.

Goos won Ironman Florida last November by outlasting Ukrainian Tamara Kozulina and former defending champion Bella Bayliss. Last summer, Granger and Goos went head-to-head at the 70.3 Antwerp Ironman.

Goos ultimately prevailed, crossing the finish line just 18 seconds in front of Granger. Saturday could be the follow-up match both women are looking for.

The women’s field will be rounded out by Americans Emily Cocks, a swimmer-turned triathlete, and Teresa Nelson, who is celebrating her honeymoon in Hawaii this week.

The men’s field includes 2001 and 2002 Ironman World Champion, American Tim DeBoom. DeBoom, who has struggled with injuries in recent years, also finished fourth in the 2007 Ironman World Championship.

Already in 2010, DeBoom has taken 10th in the Ironman 70.3 California in April, and fifth at the 2010 Columbia Triathlon in Columbia, Md.

DeBoom will be challenged on the course by Australian Luke Bell. Bell finished in the top 10 at the Ironman World Championship in 2003 and 2006, proving he knows a thing or two about racing on the Queen Kaahumanu Highway. With multiple victories at the 70.3 distance, he’ll be a competitor to watch Saturday.

DeBoom and Bell will also be facing some stiff local competition. Saturday’s race will be the third time this year Hawaiian professionals Tim Marr and John Flanagan face off against each other in the Aloha state.

Marr bested Flanagan in the 2010 Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon and Flanagan edged out Marr and took the overall victory at the recent Honolulu Triathlon, both Olympic distance races.

Marr was 15th in Kona in 2008, and recently placed sixth in the 2010 Strongman Triathlon long course in Japan. Flanagan, who placed sixth in the 2009 Ironman Louisville and eighth at the 2009 Ironman Coeur d’Alene, has left the rest of the race behind in the water here the past two years and promises to lead the pack onto the bike course once again.

Australian Justin Granger returns to the field for the second year in a row, after two strong showings in 2010 at the Ironman China, where he took seventh on a steamy day, and Ironman Langkawi Malaysia, where he placed fourth.

American Matt Lieto, the younger brother of Chris Lieto, will race here for the first time Saturday. The younger Lieto says he changed his life after watching his brother compete in the 1999 Ironman World Championship.

He lost 75 pounds, overcame low motivation and self-esteem and has found his way to the professional triathlete ranks, with top-40 finishes in Kona in the last two years. Lieto recently won the 2010 TBF XTERRA REAL Mountain Bike Triathlon in California.

Rounding out the field, Aussie Paul Attard, 26, is a new recruit to the pro ranks. He has had excellent results in Olympic-distance non-drafting races and is looking forward to his first Ironman 70.3 Hawaii.

— Find out more:
www.ironman.com

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