American Chelsea Sodaro Charges to IM World Title

It looked like we would be treated to a typical race in Hawaii — at least, typical for the last five iterations of Kona. Daniela Ryf gave up gobs of time to the front pack of swimmers. She’d sat, biding her time, pushing the pace on the front half of the bike, and then lit the afterburners after the turnaround in Hawi. She hit the front with less than five miles on the bike and began to put a further gap in. It had all the makings of another world championship effort for Ryf.

But this wasn’t a typical race in Hawaii — as Ryf gave up the lead again less than a mile into the run, with Lucy Charles-Barclay moving back into the front. Yet an ultra fast runner would soon push to the front.

And it was not Anne Haug.

American Chelsea Sodaro, a Kona rookie, won the IRONMAN World Championship and with it became the first American born woman to win the title since Karen Smyers in 1995. She took the lead coming off of Palani Road on the run and refused to let go, distancing her way to a dominating victory and the second-fastest time in Kona. Long-time front-runner Charles-Barclay took second, with Haug rounding out the podium in third.

Sodaro was elated at the finish: “My mind is a little bit blown right now, but I think this is the culmination in things being right in my life and having perspective.”

Asked by Mike Reilly about passing other athletes, Sodaro maintained her perspective: “I didn’t allow myself to think about winning this race until I got back to Palani.”

But for Sodaro, the IM operations team mirrors much of what she has surrounding her for a support team. “This is a real family operation. I don’t have a super big flashy team around me, but I have an incredible team. My dad has sagged every ride in the last month, my mom has taken care of my daughter because child care has been such a struggle, my husband is a Reno firefighter, this is really hard! This is for them!” Exclaimed as her daughter, Skye, tried to grab Sodaro’s award winning lei, “This is a life highlight. I will never forget this.”

And speaking on perspective, Sodaro talked about her schedule for the remainder of 2022: “I’m going to take the rest of the year off and be a mom.”

Charles-Barclay was emotional at the finish. “At the start of the year, I didn’t think I would be here, so second is unbelievable.” Charles-Barclay Shouting out the Red Bull team in Austria that helped her recover from a career-threatening hip fracture, Charles-Barclay noted that, “They taught me to walk again so I could run.”

Speaking on the depth of field of the race, Haug talked about how hard the bike was, saying, “I burnt my candle too much on the bike and so I didn’t have enough for the run.” Chasing Charles-Barclay for the better part of the marathon, Haug noted she had nothing left: “People kept saying, ‘oh, she’s right there.’ I see her but I just can’t do anything.”

As the Race Happened

With the largest professional women’s field ever, race day dawned with clearing skies following an early morning rain in Kona. As the sun emerged, it revealed a slightly angry Kailua Bay, with a strong current heading outbound and what commentators frequently referred to as texture on the water.

The first non-Saturday race in Kona was not without a little starting drama, as the cannon misfired at the start. The announcers counted down the professional start and…nothing. A second charge started the race in earnest.

The swim pack on the far left side (furthest from buoys) took the initial lead, with Lucy Charles-Barclay off the front immediately — a 10 meter gap by the first sight buoy. Lauren Brandon led the chase pack. Pamella Oliveira, Fenella Langridge, and Rebecca Clarke comprised the rest of that chase group. Haley Chura, Skye Moench, Chelsea Sodaro, and Sarah Crowley were in the second chase pack, with Chura trying to bridge to the Brandon group.

By 500 meters, Daniela Ryf and Anne Haug had already been gapped to the third chase pack — 50 meters behind. Brandon continued to push the chase pack forward, hoping to make it to Charles-Barclay.

At the 1000 meter mark, Laura Phillip, Ref, Haug, and McCauley were still deep in the third chase pack — over 100 meters behind the still solo Charles-Barclay. That said, Ryf looked by far the most comfortable of that swim group.

LCB made the first turn in 22:36 — with the current pulling out to the turn. The Brandon chase group maintained their position roughly 10-15 meters behind. 2:30 behind was a group comprised of Chura, Moench, Lisa Norden, Sodaro, Crowley, and Sarah True. The Ryf group was 4:45 off the pace.

In the final quarter, LCB and the chase group maintained their foot on the gas, although the pace had slowed some due to the current. The Chura-led chase pack was 150 meters arrears, with the Ryf/Haug/Philip led pack yet another 150 meters back.

LCB led out of the water in 50:57. Brandon, Clarke, Langridge, and Oliveira were :44 arrears. Chura, McCauley, Norden, True, Sodaro, Crowley, and Moench were between 3:45 and 4:00 down. The Ryf / Philipp / Haug / Siddall group was 7:00 behind.

Through transition and the first mile of the bike, and the top 5 remained unchanged: Charles-Barclay, Langridge, Brandon, Clarke, and Oliveira, in order. The biggest mover was True — and she was moving in the wrong direction, losing a total of a minute in the early stages. She had also lost her bento box in transition, spilling all of her nutrition over the road.

Heading to the first turnaround at mile 4.6, Charles-Barclay kept her :35 lead, with the trio of Langridge, Brandon, and Clarke riding together. Oliveira had fallen away from the chase pack, now 2:21 arrears. Norden, McCauley, Crowley, and Moench were in the next pack, 90 seconds off of Oliveira. Sodaro rounded out the top 10, hanging another 10 seconds behind the Norden group. Further back, Philipp and Ryf had synced up and started to push, taking 15 seconds back from the leading Charles-Barclay.

As the bike hit the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, Langridge had broken away from Brandon and Clarke and sat just 9 seconds back of Charles-Barclay. Clarke and Brandon, meanwhile traded pulls on the chase side. Further back, Oliveira had nearly been swallowed up by the now Moench-led group, True was now six minutes off the pace, and Philipp / Ryf were attempting to gap Haug.

With the first half hour on board on the bike complete, things started to settle down. Charles-Barclay led, with Langridge a legal distance behind. Brandon and Clarke had settled the gap at 1:05 back. Oliveira had stemmed the tide and remained solo in fifth, 2:10 behind Brandon and Clarke. Moench still led the largest chase group, joined by Crowley, Norden, McCauley, and Sodaro at 3:45 back and rounding out the top 10 riders. Philipp and Ryf were on the front of the next big group, having reduced the gap to 6:30 to the leading pair, and had also passed True, who would soon retire from the race. Haug was hanging tough, staying with Philipp and Ryf despite their best efforts to shake her.

Approaching an hour on board the bike, and Langridge ensured that Charles-Barclay would not take a wire-to-wire victory, taking the lead for the first time on the day. Langridge and Charles-Barclay continued to pull away from Brandon and Clarke, who were now almost two minutes down. The Moench group had since broken away from Oliveira, 3:30 off the lead. Ryf led a group comprising of Bleymehl, Philipp, Svensk, Haug, and Chura, 6 minutes behind the leaders.

Over the course of the next hour, there were three main stories: Charles-Barclay and Langridge pushed the pace on the front. The leading chase packs were coming together — Brandon and Clarke joined Moench, McCauley, Norden, and Sodaro at just a tick under four minutes behind, whereas Ryf’s chase saw her and another pack just one more minute down. And Philipp, Clarke, and Crowley had all earned five-minute position penalties.

At the turnaround in Hawi, the leading duo finally began to cede time to the chasers. Norden had pushed through into third and sat a mere 100 seconds off the lead, but would need to serve a penalty. McCauley came next having tried to push with Norden. Sodaro and Moench were still paired together, 35 seconds off Norden. Meanwhile, Ryf still could not shake Haug; they were paired together 4:12 arrears.

Coming back down from Hawi and returning towards the Queen K, the top duo remained unchanged. Sodaro and Moench had taken over the third and fourth spots. McCauley had slid down to fifth position, and Ryf, who never looked comfortable on the bike despite a blistering pace on the trip outbound, finally snapped the elastic to Haug and the other chasers, putting herself sixth and by far the fastest cyclist on the road. Norden, after her penalty, was now 10th, 2:20 behind Ryf, but still over 3 minutes ahead of Philipp who had served her penalty earlier — proof an early bike penalty can easily prove fatal to your chances at victory.

Back onto the Queen K and Langridge held serve on the front, Charles-Barclay 11 seconds back. Sodaro and Moench matched the leaders pace, but the big mover was Ryf — now just 15 seconds behind Sodaro and Moench — but she had a marker behind her in McCauley. Bleymehl, Haug, and Svensk had already ceded 30 seconds to Ryf’s relentless charge, but had also separated themselves from any chasers behind. Norden rounded out the top 10, at 5:39 back of the lead and riding by herself with a 2:40 gap to the next rider on the road, Laura Siddall.

Charles-Barclay traded P1 with Langridge with 24 miles left in the ride. Ryf continued to surge towards the front, putting herself less than two minutes down from the lead for the first time since the opening meters of the swim. Based on her speed, she would make the pass for the lead approaching the Kona International Airport. Sodaro, McCauley, and Moench all rode together at 2:45. Haug, meanwhile, continued to hold pace with Svensk, another 45 seconds behind. Norden also was trying to charge forward, taking a minute from the leaders and now sitting in ninth place.

As it turned out, Ryf wouldn’t make the pass at the airport. Instead, she had Charles-Barclay and Langridge in her sights, just 17 seconds behind. Sodaro, meanwhile, had surged into a solo 4th. Norden had ridden like her hair was ablaze, now 5th and 3:15 off the lead with Svensk in tow. Moench was 7th, 4:10 down, but maintaining a gap to Haug and McCauley.

Ryf finally tasted the lead with 4.5 miles left to ride, and immediately put her head down, trying to extend her gap out further. Charles-Barclay stuck with Ryf’s pace, but Langridge decided that it was too much, dropping back to 15 seconds shortly after the pass was made. Sodaro, Norden, and Svensk rode together, three minutes from the lead. Moench, Haug, and McCauley had come together, 4:40 off the front. Philipp, meanwhile, had chased her way to 11th, 9:11 behind.

Into T2 and it was Ryf leading, and looked very strong. She’d managed to extend her lead over Charles-Barclay to 18 seconds, who seemed to struggle coming off of the bike, but made up 10 seconds in transition. Langridge was third, 58 seconds behind. Norden pushed her way up to fourth, 3:06 behind, with Sodaro hot on her heels. Svensk was 6th, 3:28 back. The Haug-Moench-McCauley trio found themselves 5:35 off the pace, having lost two minutes in the final miles of the bike. Bleymehl rounded out the top 10, at 7:17 behind.

In the opening kilometer of the run, Charles-Barclay seized the lead back from Ryf and opened a 10 second lead. Langridge, meanwhile, had to stop for an adjustment of her On running shoes. Sodaro and Haug, however, both were running the fastest paces on the road, looking to quickly close the gap up to the podium places — and Sodaro made that move on Langridge before mile 3.

After a sixth of the run, Charles-Barclay continued to set the pace on the front. Ryf was second, but running above 7:00/mile pace and about to be passed by the fast moving Sodaro, 1:50 behind. Langridge held steady in 4th and closing on Ryf as well. Svensk and Norden were nearly shoulder to shoulder, just more than 4 minutes behind Charles-Barclay. Haug, who would be expected to make in-roads, hadn’t made much of a dent — 7th place, 5:10 off the pace. The last few top 10 positions seemed up for grabs — Moench, Bleymehl, McCauley, and Philipp were spread by a mere 1:20.

As temperatures soared into the mid 80s with heat indices in the mid-90s, Sodaro had closed onto the back of Charles-Barclay as the race headed up Palani Road. Ryf had rebounded in third, running faster but 2:31 off the front. Langridge was nearly on Ryf’s shoulder, but the most dangerous running in the field, Haug, was now only 1:40 off of Ryf and 4:21 behind.

Sodaro passed Charles-Barclay for the lead making the left hand turn onto the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway. Langridge passed Ryf for the final podium position. Haug was now within 4:00 of the front, but was also not running as fast as Sodaro. Svensk held steady in 6th, with Norden another minute behind. Philipp had pushed her way to 8th place, 4:00 back of Norden and 9:17 away from Sodaro.

Eleven miles into the run and Sodaro had built a 1:20 gap on Charles-Barclay. Haug was now solidly on the podium, but had actually lost time to Sodaro, 4:06 off the front. Langridge was now fourth, 4:41 back, and Ryf had stopped the bleeding and sat in fifth, 5:04 down, but starting to claw time back out of Langridge. Svensk seemed destined to finish sixth, 6:49 down, and not making progress on the women in front of her nor losing time to those behind.

Entering the Natural Energy Lab, Sodaro had extended her advantage over Charles-Barclay to 2:02. Haug was yet another 2:00 behind. Langridge had dug in and found herself comfortably in fourth, one minute behind Haug and a minute in front of Ryf. Svensk held sixth, followed by Norden, who had a comfortable gap on Philipp in 8th (+11:00). Moench came next, 15:20 from the lead, and Crowley owned 10th, fighting with Siddall for that spot.

On the way out of the Energy Lab, it appeared our top 4 had solidified, with the only question of some order. Sodaro still had the bit between her teeth and now was 4:00 up on Charles-Barclay and 5:36 in front of Haug. Langridge held steady in 4th, 9:47 back. Ryf, meanwhile, got passed by Philipp. Svensk looked to drop out in the Energy Lab with problems with her foot.

With less than 5 miles to run, Sodaro had continued to extend out her lead to over six minutes. The question appeared to be the order of the final podium positions, as Haug and Charles-Barclay were now 30 seconds apart from one another. Meanwhile, the race for fourth to seventh had tightened, with Langridge, Philipp, Norden, and Ryf separated by less than 2:30.

At the finish, it was Sodaro claiming the first American IM World Championship for a woman since Paula Newby-Fraser (representing America) in 1996, and the first American-born woman to win since Karen Smyers in 1995. Sodaro’s finish time of 8:33:46 was the second-fastest of all time, only trailing Daniela Ryf’s course record of 8:26:18 in 2018. Charles-Barclay, meanwhile, managed to hold off Haug for second, her 3:02:49 marathon good enough to ward off the 2:57:57 charge from Haug.

Women’s Top 10

1. Chelsea Sodaro 8:33:46
2. Lucy Charles-Barclay 8:41:37
3. Anne Haug 8:42:22
4. Laura Philipp 8:50:31
5. Lisa Norden 8:54:43
6. Fenella Langridge 8:56:26
7. Sarah Crowley 9:01:58
8. Daniela Ryf 9:02:26
9. Skye Moench 9:04:31
10. Laura Siddall 9:07:49

All Photos: Aaron Palaian