Sanders sets IM record, Kessler tops women at Arizona

Lionel Sanders of Canada defended his 2015 title and set an Ironman brand record of 7:44:29 to win Ironman Arizona by a 5:46 margin over fellow Canadian and runner-up Brent McMahon.

Sanders began with a 16th-best 53:45 swim, advanced to 2nd with a race-best 4:04:38 bike split and closed with a 2nd-best 2:42:31 marathon.

TJ Tollakson of the U.S. took the final spot on the podium with an 8:02:30 performance.

Sanders' time broke the previous Ironman brand mark of 7:45:49 set by Marino Vanhoenacker of Belgium at Ironman Austria in 2011. Sanders’ time has only been beaten by Ironman-distance leaders Jan Frodeno (7:35:34 at 2016 Challenge Roth) and Andreas Raelert (7:41:33 at 2011 Challenge Roth).

Kessler won her third straight Ironman Arizona victory with a wire-to-wire performance dogged all day by Yvonne Van Vlerken of the Netherlands. Kessler finished in 8:48:23, the 14th-best women’s Ironman brand performance and women’s 29th-best Ironman-distance effort in history.

Kessler began with a women’s-best 49:31 swim, maintained a 3:01 lead at T2 with a women’s 4th-fastest 4:44:24 bike split, and closed with a 3:09:40 marathon that gave her a 3:04 margin of victory over Yvonne Van Vlerken of Netherlands (3:08:43 marathon).

In her Ironman debut, Malindi Elmore of Canada broke 9 hours and finished 3rd, 8:59 behind the winner.


Rafael Goncalves of Brazil, an assistant coach with Team Sirius in Boulder, led the swim in 45:31 with a 1:08 lead on Matt Chrabot of the U.S., 2:51 on Brent McMahon of Canada, and then 4-plus minutes on a pack of 11 that included Giulio Molinari of Italy, Philip Graves of Great Britain, TJ Tollakson of the U.S., 2012 Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs of Australia, Per Bittner of Germany, Joe Gambles of Australia, and super cyclist Cameron Wurf of Australia.

Strong cyclists-runners with swim deficits were led by Lionel Sanders, who was 16th and 8:15 arrears, Pedro Gomes in 17th and 8:16 down, and Thomas Gerlach in 18th and 8:19 behind.

Last year Sanders was 7 minutes behind after the swim and won, finishing in 7:58:22 with a 2:35 margin of victory over fellow Canadian Brent McMahon.

By 28 miles into the bike leg, Wurf charged to a 1:48 lead on Tollakson, just over 2 minutes on Molinari, Graves and McMahon, 2:59 on Joe Gambles, 4:46 on fast-fading Goncalves, and 5:32 on fast-advancing Sanders.

Not well known in elite triathlon circles, Wurf is a 33-year-old Tasmanian who was a pro road cyclist with the Cannondale team and a 2004 Australian Olympic rower. A recent convert to triathlon, Wurf’s best previous result was 9th overall at the 2015 edition of Ironman Canada in Whistler.

By 65 miles, Wurf settled into a maintenance pace with a 2:46 lead on Tollakson, 2:48 on Graves, 3:24 on hard charging Sanders, 4:07 on McMahon, and 7:30 on fellow Tasmanian Gambles. By 102 miles, Sanders advanced to 2nd (+2:08), followed by Tollakson (+4:25), Molinari (+7:12), and Graves (+7:20). Hitting a flat spot, McMahon fell 9:13 behind the leader.

After a 2nd-fastest 4:05:45 bike split, Wurf led the field into T2 with a 2:21 margin on Sanders, who posted the day’s-best 4:04:38 bike split. Tollakson was 3rd, 5:43 arrears, Molinari 4th 9:04 back, Graves 5th trailing by 9:45, McMahon 6th and 10:33 behind, and Gambles 7th with 15:56 to make up.

Within 2 miles, Wurf’s stay in the lead was over and he was falling back rapidly. At mile 1.94, Sanders led by 54 seconds on Wurf, 4:57 on Tollakson, 7:16 on Molinari, 8:15 on McMahon, and 9:08 on Graves. Halfway through the marathon, Sanders led McMahon by 7:50, Tollakson by 11:34, Molinari by 13:48, and fast-rising David Plese of Slovenia by 18:53. Falling out of hope were Wurf (+19:33), Gambles and Pedro Gomes (+20:34) and Graves (+21:57).

From that point, Sanders displayed no weakness and never faltered. At Mile 18.4, the Canadian maintained a 7:38 lead on McMahon, 14:17 on Tollakson, 18:27 on Molinari, and 19:59 on Plese.

After a 2nd-best 2:42:31 marathon, Sanders defended his Arizona title and entered the record books with the fastest Ironman brand time in history – 7:44:29 – which gave him a 5:46 margin of victory over his never-say-die fellow Canadian McMahon, who closed with a race-best 2:40:17 run. Tollakson closed with a 6th-best 2:56:44 run to finish 3rd in 8:02:30.


Meredith Kessler took a big lead with her women’s best 49:31 swim, which gave her a 3:36 advantage on Emily Cocks of the U.S., 3:43 on Leanda Cave of Great Britain, 4:27 on Kelly Williamson of the U.S., 5:00 on Amanda Stevens of the U.S., 5:03 on Darbi Roberts of the U.S., 6:04 on Jessica Smith of the U.S., 8:33 on Yvonne Van Vlerken of Netherlands, 10:46 on Angela Naeth of Canada, 10:50 on Danielle Mack of the U.S., 11 plus minutes on Rachel Jastrebsky, Mackenzie Madison and Malindi Elmore, and 14:22 on 2016 Challenge Penticton winner Jen Annett of Canada.

After 47 miles of the bike leg, Kessler established a 7:39 gap on Van Vlerken, 9:11 on Naeth, 13:13 on Cave, 14:13 on Annett, 14:37 on Cocks, and 14:39 on Darbi Roberts. After 84 miles, Naeth passed Van Vlerken to take 2nd, 3:01 behind Kessler and 3 seconds ahead of Van Vlerken, while Annett, Cave and Malindi Elmore lagged 15 to 18 minutes back of the leader.

After a women’s 4th-fastest 4:44:24 bike split, Kessler arrived in T2 with a 3:01 lead on Naeth, who made up for a slow swim with a scorching-fast 4:36:45 bike split. Van Vlerken arrived 4:15 back of the leader after a women’s 2nd-best 4:40:40 bike split. Annett arrived 4th, 13:45 down, after a 3rd-best 4:43:57 bike split while Cave and Malindi Elmore were 4th and 5th, 18:23 and 18:26 behind the leader.

Within the first few miles, Naeth started limping and then dropped out.

Kessler, on the other hand, displayed no weakness and after 10.2 miles led Van Vlerken - the only threat to Kessler’s lead - by 4:24. Annett held 3rd with an 18:01 deficit, closely trailed by fellow Canadian Elmore.

Van Vlerken kept the gap to Kessler at 3:20 by Mile 17 and held firm to a 3:02 lead at Mile 21, while Elmore passed Annett and cut her deficit to Kessler to 12:25 from 12:48 in the most recent 2 miles.

Ironman Arizona
Tempe, Arizona
November 20, 2016
S 2.4 mi. / B 112 mi. / R 26.2 mi.



1. Lionel Sanders (CAN) 7:44:29
2. Brent McMahon (CAN) 7:50:15
3. TJ Tollakson (USA) 8:02:30
4. David Plese (SLO) 8:04:29
5. Giulio Molinari (ITA) 8:06:47
6. Pedro Gomes (PRT) 8:11:15
7. Joe Gambles (AUS) 8:12:36
8. Matic Modic (SVN) 8:17:57
9. Per Bittner (GER) 8:18:23
10. Jens Frommhold (GER) 8:21:48
14. Cameron Wurf (AUS) 8:27:53


1. Meredith Kessler (USA) 8:48:23
2. Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED) 8:51:27
3. Malindi Elmore (CAN) 8:57:22
4. Ruth Brennan Morrey (USA) 9:02:28
5. Leanda Cave (GBR) 9:10:41
6. Darbi Roberts (USA) 9:13:42
7. Jen Annett (USA) 9:17:34
8. Kelly Williamson (USA) 9:22:00
9. Emily Cocks (USA) 9:25:10
10. Danielle Mack (USA) 9:26:17