CLEARWATER BEACH, Florida -- The fifth and final Ironman 70.3 World Championship at the flat and fast Clearwater course crowned the first repeat men's champion and yet another first-time women's winner.
Jodie Swallow led wire-to-wire, avenging last year's Clearwater DNF with a dominant 6:06 margin of victory over runner-up and fellow Brit Leanda Cave and adding another long course world title to her 2009 ITU triumph.
"I feel good," said Swallow, who DNF'd at Clearwater last year. "And when I feel good, I am strong. And I felt amazing today. I won my first ITU World Cup at Korea four weeks ago with a good run. And I say if you can run a good 10k, you can run a good half marathon."
Germany's Michael Raelert won a duel with the Czech Republic's two-time Olympian Filip Ospaly to become the first man to repeat as the Ironman 70.3 World titlist. Raelert was seven minutes slower than 2009 thanks to a host of tougher conditions including a choppy ocean swim that thinned out the lead bike pack, a smaller elite men's field, and a windier bike.
"To be honest, this means more to me than last year because I was absolutely on the limit at the end," said Raelert, who blazed into prominence at this race last year with a world record-smashing 3:34:04 time and an intimidating 1:09:06 closing run. "Last year I could cruise to the finish, but this time I was freaked out the last couple hundred meters because I was cramping and could not have fought back if Filip [Ospaly] had come back on me."
Before the race, Raelert indicated he put a lot of pressure on himself to repeat, and admitted that he would be perfectly happy not to have to repeat his startling 1:09 run. On this day, however, Joe Gambles (pictured right) made a surge at the end of the bike that gave him the fastest bike split and left Raelert 1:20 back. And once Gambles' gambit faded at Mile 2 of the run, Ospaly eked out a 10-second lead that Raelert took a few miles to erase. So instead of soaking in the cheers at the end as he had done in 2009, the tall German had to dig deep to finish with a 1:09:57 half marathon to put Ospaly away.
Despite his angst and cramps, Raelert said he highly enjoyed his duel with Ospaly. "Racing Filip was such a cool race," said Raelert. "Because when we got together in the lead on the run, we were playing games. After 3 or 4 miles, he accelerated and I had to fight to catch him back. From Mile 4 to 7, we ran together. Then I found I could create a little gap so I thought this might be my chance. So I put in a lot of energy and it worked. But then I realized I could not keep this pace and I slowed down. But he did not come back and finally maybe I broke Filip's mind and he gave up."
But Ospaly, who posed a faster-than-Raelert 1:08 run to win Ironman 70.3 Austria , didn't quite see it that way. "At kilometer 13 Michael went faster and I decided to stay on my pace and hope I would come back after the bridge and get back together. But after the bridge I had some problems."
Those problems, said Ospaly, stemmed from his severe inexperience at the distance. "I won Austria 70.3, but I did not finish Germany 70.3. This race was only my second 70.3 finish. And I had no power to go quicker and ran slower from kilometer 15-17. So I thought Michael is gone and I am far ahead of third, so I will be happy with my race."
When the race was over, Raelert's 24:16 ocean swim, 2:03:58 bike and 1:09:57 run added up to a 3:41:19 finish and a 1:37 margin of victory over Ospaly, who could not find the horsepower to match Raelert's Mile 7 surge and finished with a 1:11:24 run.
Raelert's win capped off a virtually perfect long course year in which the 30-year-old brother of Ironman Hawaii runner-up Andreas Raelert won the Ironman California 70.3, the Wildflower long course, the European long course championship and Ironman Switzerland 70.3 in dominating fashion.
Behind the top two, Tim O'Donnell avenged his penalty-plagued 11th place finish last year with a penalty free ride and a 1:12:43 run that took the final spot of the podium away from Gambles (1:14:39 run) with a final margin of 24 seconds.
"Third time's the charm here for me," said O'Donnell, who won the ITU long course world championship in 2009. "I am happy making the podium here against such a great field." O'Donnell said he lost some energy making up for a badly navigated swim start. "I had to plug and plug to make up for that start. Then on the bike, when Joe Gambles took off at Mile 42, I thought it was Raelert and took off after him. I thought 'If he gets away, the race is over.' A little later, I saw Raelert next to me and settled back and waited for the run.''
Although O'Donnell has joined the ranks of the best runners in the sport, he lost several seconds with a slow T2 and never had the juice to chase down Ospaly (a short course star who won the Life Time Fitness series crown this year).
Swallow's win might have surprised several U.S. observers, but not her rivals. "Jodie had several great performances this year and with Julie [Dibens] coming off two long tough races, I thought Jodie was the one to beat," said second place Leanda Cave. "I saw Jodie coming out of the water when I still had a hundred yards to go and she was gone,"
In fact, Swallow's 24:20 swim topped Cave by 1:36. Swallow's 2:16:37 bike was only third-best after fifth-place Heather Jackson's 2:16:03 ride and Julie Dibens' 2:16:19 bike, but still left her with a minute lead over Dibens and 3:42 over Cave.
Dibens started the run in clear second ;place, but the accumulated racing miles finally got to her and she faded to an honorable 8th with an exhausted 1:35:03 run.
Swallow cruised to a 4:06:28 finish with a race-best 1:21:59 run , while Cave's 1:23:15 run held on to second place and off the 1:22:28 run surge of Magali Tisseyre by 30 seconds. Tisseyre finished in 4:13:04 and just nipped fellow Lance Watson squad member Amanda Stevens in the final mile for the final spot on the podium by 28 seconds..
Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championships
Clearwater, FL / November 13, 2010
swim 1.2m / bike 56m / run 13.1m
1. Michael Raelert (GER) 3:41:19
2. Filip Ospaly (CZE) 3:42:56
3. Timothy O'Donnell (USA) 3:44:18
4. Joe Gambles (AUS) 3:44:48
5. Richie Cunningham (AUS) 3:45:33
6. Igor Amarelli (BRA) 3:45:46
7. Daniel Fontana (ITA) 3:47:15
8. Kevin Collington (USA) 3:47:32
9. Matt Reed (USA) 3:48:13
10. Chris Legh (AUS) 3:48:33
1. Jodie Swallow (GBR) 4:06:28
2. Leanda Cave (GBR) 4:12:34
3. Magali Tisseyre (CAN) 4:13:04
4. Amanda Stevens (USA) 4:13:32
5. Heather Jackson (USA) 4:17:08
6. Lesley Paterson (GBR) 4:18:01
7. Angela Naeth (CAN) 4:18:40
8. Julie Dibens (GBR) 4:20:55
9. Nina Kraft (GER) 4:21:18
10. Emma Kate Lidbury (GBR) 4:22:55