Appleton and Hollioake claim IRONMAN Australia titles

6 May 2024

Photo Credit: Korupt Vision

Sam Appleton and Regan Hollioake have claimed the men’s and women’s professional titles at IRONMAN Australia, with both athletes impressing on their way to the top step of the podium.

Appleton crossed the finish line in 7:57:32, a new course best time, with Hollioake winning in 9:02:03, as both athletes claimed their debut IRONMAN victories.

American-based Australian Sam Appleton was the man to beat all day, edging out New Zealand’s Mike Phillips by less than two minutes, with Ben Hill finishing third.

“I’m pretty tired but stoked, really, really happy, it was a tough day,” Appleton said.

“I feel I had some pretty good training leading in to this so I knew I could race pretty well but I didn’t really expect to be kind of on my own the whole day up until Mike caught me on the run and then we had a bit of a battle for the back half of the marathon which was really exciting, but I would have preferred a bit more space to be honest. It feels great to win, I was third last year so to come back and improve on that is really good, in front of my mum who lives here, my dad drove up from Sydney, my brother, so in front of friends and family is really special.

“I race around the world and so often it’s just me at a lot of races, when you have your family watching you and supporting you it means so much,” he said.

Appleton pushed hard from the start, opening up an almost three-minute lead over defending champion Steve McKenna after the 3.8km swim. He continued to keep the pressure on the chasing pack throughout the bike leg, with his lead out to more than six minutes at some stages, eventually coming back into town two minutes clear of Hill and Phillips.

“I knew I wanted to swim pretty hard and get a gap on Mike and Ben Hill because they’re such good riders and I wanted them to work really hard to try and catch me,” Appleton said.

“I think I might have taken a bit of the sting out of their legs for the run so I guess my plan worked out pretty well.”

Once onto the run Phillips starting chipping away at Appleton’s lead, with the pair swapping positions through the marathon, before Appleton pulled away late to claim the win.

“Mike was running really, really strong and he was running at a pace that I couldn’t go with, but fortunately he slowed down and I was able to come back and overtake him again, but it’s exciting and makes for a great race, the crowd really loved it, and to be able to come out on top is really nice,” Appleton said.

“It’s so special, you put months and months of work in to an IRONMAN, last year I did IRONMAN Western Australia and unfortunately had an accident and crashed halfway through the bike so I was unable to finish, so to finish the year on that kind of downer was rough, then to be able to come back and re-collect and train really hard and win here it makes it even sweeter.”

Hollioake only turned professional at the start of the year, with today’s race just her second IRONMAN at the top level, and she took the win over Radka Kahlefeldt by almost nine minutes, with Kate Gillespie-Jones a further five minutes back in third.

“I’m totally overwhelmed, it’s a dream come true, to win at home on such a beautiful course it’s just incredible,” Hollioake said.

“I actually struggled a bit in the swim and the start of the bike, it took me about three and a half hours to get going today but then it just clicked and I found my legs, the tail end of the bike was great and then the run just felt really smooth and really only pinched in the last six kilometres I think.”

Kahlefeldt, who finished second in Port Macquarie last year, was first out of the water, just 17 seconds clear of Hollioake, with American Dede Griesbauer third. Kahlefeldt opened up a lead in the early stages of the bike, before Hollioake managed to close the gap towards the end of the 180kms.

“I knew she (Kahlefeldt) put three and a half minutes in to me in the first 45km, I did get a flat on the bike which managed to seal itself and I just had to put some CO2 in which was really lucky, and I didn’t realise I was putting so much time into her on the second lap, it was a thrill to be able to catch her on Matthew Flinders Drive coming back into town,” Hollioake said.

“The bike course is challenging, there’s plenty of elevation in it, the roads are a little bit tough but given the forecast we were expecting it was meant to be a lot worse than it actually was so I was pleasantly surprised at the weather, it’s a brutal but honest bike course, it’s one of the best in the world.”

Once onto the run Hollioake didn’t look back, pushing ahead across the 42.2km leg before taking her maiden IRONMAN win in front of family and friends.

“It’s just incredible, this is my third pro race, second pro IRONMAN, to win is just amazing, completely overwhelming and a dream come true, everything that I’ve worked for over the past years, I’m thrilled,” she said.

“I still work as a physio just because it is hard to make it in elite sport, it’s tough out there, it’s competitive, the girls are so fierce and strong and the course here is really challenging and tough, but it’s an amazing way to win, the highs are high and the lows are low but this is a high today.

“The locals, volunteers were amazing, there wasn’t a lonely part of the course I don’t think, there was someone out there at all times, incredible given there was a bit of rain about, people still went out and supported, I’m really thankful to everyone that lines the streets today and cheered, it was amazing,” Hollioake said.

Sunday’s event is the 37th running of IRONMAN Australia, with athletes from across Australia and around the world taking on the iconic event, culminating with the famous IRONMAN finish line on Port Macquarie’s Town Green.

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