At the age of 31, Daniela Ryf is quite gracious and humble about her accomplishments and welcomes a challenge from anyone who can dispute her reign at the top of the Ironman World.
Her resume is formidable. She has won a record four Ironman 70.3 Worlds Championships. In 2017 she won by 6:37. This year she topped Lucy Charles by 3:46. She has won three Ironman World Championships in a row. She won last year by 9:09 over Charles. In 2016, after riding out a rough stretch mid-season, she smashed the women’s Kona record with an 8:46:46 performance that placed her 23:45 ahead of runner-up Mirinda Carfrae, the former record holder and three-time Kona champion.
Back in 2008, Ryf placed 7th at the Olympics. In 2015, she won the three elements of the Middle East Triple Crown, earning a $1 million bonus – the biggest payday in triathlon history.
This year, Ryf seems to have avoided all mid-season troubles. She won Ironman Frankfurt in a women’s record 8:38:44 time which included a sizzling 4:40:55 bike split and a 2:58:53 run and gave her a 26:35 margin of victory. Along the way, she recorded the fastest Ironman 70.3 branded race time at Gydnia where her winning time of 3:57:55 was 22:51 faster than runner-up Sarah True of the U.S.
At a Bahrain 13 Endurance Team function in Kona, Ryf gracefully avoided any trace of bragging whatsoever and gave a neat definition of her ambition in the sport which could offend no one and could endear her to rivals.
Slowtwitch: There are many ways to win in an impressive fashion. One way would be to prevail in a close fought battle. Recently, your wins have not been close. Is a battle something you secretly yearn for? Or as a competitor do you simply prefer to win by a wide margin?
Daniela Ryf: No. The competition pushes you to your own limits. I think it is great to see such tough competition today. In this field it is definitely going to be a challenge. If there is a battle going to happen, I’m prepared. I am definitely going to give my all, my best.
ST: It is true that newcomer Lucy Charles has offered the most resistance? She takes a lead with the swim, battles you on the bike, then surrenders on the run.
Daniela: It has been been interesting to see the athletes that are improving. Also some athletes who are racing here for the first time at Kona. I think that makes the race very interesting. An Ironman race is always kind of open. And in Kona so many things can happen. So it makes me look forward to Saturday. Hopefully it will be a good battle.
ST: Two years ago you had some problems. You got hypothermia in Frankfurt, then raced to break Chrissie’s race record at Roth. Then you had to pile on one more Ironman to validate your Kona entry. Which left you tapped out and 4th place at Ironman 70.3 Worlds. But with a month to recuperate, you then proceeded dominate Kona once again. This year all goes according to plan?
Daniela: Yes it’s been really good year. I’ve had some really good races at Frankfurt and South Africa. After that I had a really good camp in Maui. I got a little bit fitter since then also. So I definitely feel I did all I could do to prepare for this race.
ST: No drama Daniela?
Daniela: But again, it’s Kona. No matter how well you prepare, you still have to show it on race day. So, that’s what I keep in my mind to take on the challenges.
ST: Why Maui?
Daniela: I really enjoyed it. It is the same conditions as here. But I like that you train on different roads four weeks before the race. I find it mentally an advantage. And it’s been really quiet there. It’s fantastic riding. Very beautiful too.
ST: You have a good crew of people taking care of you. I recall the great Luc Van Lierde was overcome with stress before Kona - he was taking care of all his arrangements and travel details - and withdrew two nights before the race.
Daniela: I have a whole crew with me here. It’s been really amazing. Coordinated – everything around me. Helping me organize. It is difficult when you have a lot of requests. I think it is important to manage it all well. I think last year I did a little too much. This year the team has been really amazing and very helpful so I can focus on what I have to do. Focus on training and my preparation.
ST: Did your coach Brett Sutton give you a message before this race – as he famously did with Chrissie Wellington in 2007?
Daniela: We haven’t talked too much about the race, to be honest. I guess it’s going to be something like, ‘Just swim, bike and run. Do it as well as you can.’ He is pretty simple in advising.
ST: Do you have any appreciation of where you stand in the history of this race? Paula Newby-Fraser has eight wins. Your fellow Swiss Natascha Badmann has six. And Chrissie Wellington was undefeated with four wins and broke the women’s race record before she retired.
Daniela: It definitely feels special that I can belong in there somewhere with the legends. Again, for me, it is not so much how many titles I win. It is how you win them.
Of course it is also nice if you can feel you are going really fast and no one can keep up. That is a good feeling. But it’s the battles that challenge you and push you even harder. For sure.
Perhaps the perfectly rational, calm state of mind is the perfect weapon to pursue her brand of triathlon perfection. No sense opening up to nightmares of what might go wrong. Instead, if someone arrives who can push her, can challenge her, all the better for a woman who says: “Again, for me, it is not so much how many titles I win. It is how you do it.”