Australia’s leading female professional long-course triathletes are set to take on the best in the world at the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, this weekend.
An elite field of professional triathletes from around the world have made their way to the big island of Hawai’i for a historic event on Saturday, with the event set to be the first time that professional and age-group women are racing in a different location to the men, who raced last month in Nice, France.
The Australian contingent includes a mix of experienced campaigners and newcomers who are all out to make their mark on the pinnacle event in the sport, racing the world’s best across a 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42.2km run to crown a new World Champion.
Brisbane’s Sarah Crowley heads into the race as the top seeded Australian, having stood on the third step of the podium at the IRONMAN World Championship twice before, in 2019 and 2017.
“I’m so excited to be back on the island, this place has a lot of very special memories for me,” said Crowley.
“I’m excited for race day, it’s shaping up to be one of the most competitive yet.”
Crowley’s journey back to the World Championship stage this year has been a rocky one, with some bike crashes in recent months slowing her progress down.
“The recovery has been slower than expected. I broke some ribs and my sternum, I was then hit by a car training in Utah and re injured them plus some additional injuries,” she said.
“My team and I have worked so hard to recover and be strong and ready for this race. Training through the recovery period included a lot of indoor training and the use of a snorkel in the pool to limit twisting.
“I’m confident I have what it takes to be in the mix off the bike. Despite the injuries, my swim has continued to improve this year and I always have a strong bike,”
“The run this year is a little unknown as we have only recently been back to full capacity. It’s exciting to be building momentum into the World Championship but a little uncomfortable with the run a little unknown.”
Chloe Lane will make her World Championship professional debut this weekend, having previously raced in Kona as an age-group athlete and is looking forward to the dynamic of a female only race.
“The first time I raced here in 2011, the age group start was a mass start, all men and women together, so times have definitely changed and I’m excited to be racing in a women’s only race,” said Lane.
“Having raced here three times as an age grouper gives me a lot of experience on the course. I had some success, and some failures in Kona, and I’ll take all those learnings into this weekend.”
Lane claimed her spot at this year’s World Championship with a win at last September’s IRONMAN Wisconsin and most recently was third at last month’s IRONMAN Maryland.
Canberra’s Penny Slater will make her second appearance in Kona having finished 24th on debut in 2022.
“I’m really excited to be back to race on the big island. After getting a taste for it last year it feels great to be back in a place I’m familiar with and feeling the buzz around the race, nothing compares to Kona vibes,” said Slater.
“It’s for sure one of the best fields that’s ever been assembled here which I’m excited to test myself against.
“Last year I prepared for the World Championship at home in Canberra, which was certainly a challenge. But this year I have been training in Cairns for the last six weeks which has been similar conditions to Kona, so I am feeling much more prepared for the heat and winds this year,” she said.
“Training has been going really well and consistently, I’m feeling fit and happy so you can’t ask for much more going into the biggest race of the year.”
Slater took a lot out of her World Championship debut and is looking forward to putting those learnings into practice on Saturday.
“Last year was so surreal to be actually racing in Kona and I was just happy to be out racing after an up and down year. However, I did let the occasion get to me and made some pretty silly and avoidable mistakes,” she said.
“I definitely learnt the importance of staying calm and relaxed during the race and approaching it as I would any other one, which is easier said than done.
“Being much more prepared for the heat this year will definitely help and I’ve got my nutrition much more dialled in which will hopefully help me not fall apart on the marathon like last year. Also having raced more of the girls this time around I feel much more confident in navigating the dynamics and tactics of the race.”
While Radka Kahlefeldt will be racing under the Czech Republic flag this weekend the Wagga Wagga resident and new Australian citizen will is a fan favourite for those cheering on from her adopted home.
“Training has been great, no injuries no sickness. I live in Wagga so I had to train through the winter which was a bit of a challenge but I love training around Wagga, it’s an amazing spot for riding, running and swimming,” said Kahlefeldt.
“I have done some heat training, swimming in our Learn to Swim pool at Wagga Swim Hub in 33 degrees water and I have done a few sessions in the Wagga Workout sauna. But the real acclimatisation started last Saturday here on the big island.
“This is a very special moment in sport. We will see if this format will be successful but it’s great to be able to play a role in this big day. I think that this race will be very fair as there won’t be any drafting between male age group athletes and female professional athletes.”
Kahlefeldt has had a strong 2022 so far, with second place finishes at IRONMAN Australia in May and the Cairns Airport IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship Cairns in June, as well as taking home silver at both IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong and the recent Qatar Airways IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast.
“I am very excited. Lots of preparation and commitment went into this race and I have also a huge respect for this race, the conditions, weather and the competition,” she said.
“I want to feel like I am in the mix with the best and that I can give my 100% on the day. I know that I have to stay mentally strong the whole day as the conditions are really testing.”
Former AFLW player Kate Gillespie-Jones will also be making her World Championship debut after qualifying for the event with a fifth place finish at IRONMAN Cairns.
British-born, Cairns based, athlete Sarah Thomas will be racing at the event as a professional for the first time, having last made the trip to Kona as an age-group athlete in 2019. Thomas secured her position on the World Championship start line at her home race earlier this year.
Sydney’s Laura Brown is another Australian heading to the IRONMAN World Championship as a professional for the first time, also qualifying at IRONMAN Cairns.
For more information about the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship women’s race in Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i, please visit https://www.ironman.com/im-world-championship-2023.