KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- Mostly, they say the safe things, the polite things, the earnest things. No bulletin board material to amp up their rivals. Madame Pele and the oven/wind tunnel better known as the Queen K is tough enough. But this crew of contenders can't help but blurt out a few hard truths, a few funny remarks, a few insights.
Not only is she undefeated at the Ironman distance, holder of the World Best 8:31 at Quelle Challenge Roth. But she is totally unafraid of mugging like the reincarnation of comedienne Lucille Ball, revealing a hard-core competitive nature, and telling it like it is with as mastery of the King's English.
On going for Paula Newby-Fraser's race record 8:55:28 set in 1992.
Paula was an amazing athlete. If I or anyone else could break that record that would be a very historical moment. While my focus isn’t on breaking records, I set out to race as fast as I possibly can and to put the maximum time between myself and my nearest pursuer and I am prepared to really really dig deep. And with racing as fast as I can comes the possibility of breaking that mark.
On the added pressure of being the overwhelming favorite
No one has bigger expectations on me than I put on myself. I know what it feels like to win and what it takes to win and I am incredibly happy to wear that crown. So I do not let the weight of expectations of the additional pressures that come with it drag me down. I let that pressure be the wind beneath my wings and I let it buoy me up and give me energy that I need for the race.
Yvonne Van Vlerken
On losing to Sandra Wallenhorst at Frankfurt
I made a big mistake -- I lost a lot of weight. It was partly on purpose - to get speed, and partly by accident. But I learned my lesson. I need my weight to be at 55 to 57 kilos, about 126 pounds, for the power on the bike and for endurance. At Frankfurt, that was the difference. I could not play my cards. Normally my bike is my best card and it brings me to top three to start the run. But at Frankfurt, after 120k on the bike, I didn't have any power as usual. And I struggled on the run as well. Because I felt so light, I went out too fast. It felt lie my good speed. But actually I was running 3:45 per kilometer (2:37 marathon pace.) That is fine for Crowie and the top guys, maybe. But I should not run like that. And I paid for that the rest of the run.
Van Vlerken faded to a 3:09:22 run, four minutes slower than winner Sandra Wallenhorst. That four minutes was the difference between Wallenhorst's 8:58 winning time and Van Vlerken's 9:02 runner-up finish.
On her early 2009 season
I was very fast in February, March and April and won the European Duathlon Championships. I made a lot of mistakes with my weight. But after in tried to eat a lot of good food and did power training in the gym.
Can she win or is she happy with a podium?
You know me. I always like the role of underdog. Last year I was the underdog here. I'm still new in the sport. If you get first or second in your first race here like Crowie or Chrissie, that's amazing. I think I still need some more experience. So I will be very happy with top 3. Especially this year, with such a tough field.
While Van Vlerken says Wellington is "from another planet" and does not even speculate she might beat her, it doesn't mean a girl can't dream.
Actually I dream about stuff like that. I always dream about having an amazing swim and coming out of the water with the other top girls. I know it won’t happen this year. Not yet. But I am working hard on my swim. For me, it would be a very different race if I came out of the water with the other girls. It would be very amazing if I came out of the swim with Chrissie. My bike is strong and I don't think I would let her go. I'd love to do a duathlon with her. I did a couple races where I ran as fast as her.
On the psychology of coming out of the swim well behind
I don't feel lonely. I like to see it as a big hunt. When I come out of the water, I like to knew my position and the gap. I like to be the hunter and not the hunted.
On ramping up from 70.3 to the Ironman distance
I think naturally I am an endurance athlete. I train better over longer distances I've known for a long time Ironman would be where I end up. But, having said that, I really don't know how it will pan out. I will give this race my best. I've had a lot of really good training. Thanks to my coach Siri I am really well prepared.
On the length of her longest run
Thirty five kilometers.
Whereupon emcee Greg Welch piped up, "Don't give yourself away! You shoulda said 40."
Michellie Jones, the 2006 champion who just turned 40
On the increasing speed of the women's Ironman field
In the last couple of years, like what I saw in shorter distance racing. Everyone gets very inspired when they see what other people can do. It's like when the men broke the four-minute mile. Once you see one person do it, it's in the mind that If they can go that fast, I can too. I think Chrissie set the standard out there. And now a lot of other girls think they can win this race just as much as her.
I alternate between "It can't be any worse than any other long distance race," and abject terror, between "It'll be fine" and "Holy Shit!" Ultimately, I think if you're too calm, there's something wrong with you.
On anticipating Natascha Badmann to come flying by some time on the bike.
I have no illusions that she won't come barging through. When she came by me in New Orleans 70.3, it was like a knife through butter. Yeah, it was humbling. But I came back on her in the run. I think if I'd just had a few more miles, I might have caught her. Yeah. Coulda shoulda woulda.