Ronnie Schildknecht won it with a sizzling 4:22:01 bike split and Vermont mother of three Jessie Donavan overtook two-time world champion Jodie Swallow on the run to win her 3rd Ironman title in two years at Ironman South Africa.
Schildknecht’s 52:48 swim brought him out of Nelson Mandela Bay 8th, 3:20 behind a group of four that included Bas Diederen of the Netherlands (49:27), Berger Dominik of Austria (49:31), Kent Horner of South Africa (49:31) and Horst Reichel of Germany (49:44). Significantly, he was 30 seconds behind Cyril Viennot of France, who possesses a topflight sub-2:50 run.
On the bike, Schildknecht displayed the championship form that has brought him six straight Ironman Switzerland titles and a 4th at Ironman Hawaii in 2008. Schildknecht hit T2 in 5:14:49 with a 4:22:01 split that was 12 to 17 minutes faster than his nearest pursuers and gave him a 12-minute lead starting the run. Soundly beaten on the bike, a pack of five men arrived in T2 within a minute of one another –Viennot (5:27:35), Diederen (5:27:42), Dominik (5:28:21), Horner (5:28:30) and Horst Reichel (5:28:40).
Using his decade of top ranked international experience, Schildknecht played his cards coolly and conservatively, reeling off a 2:53:03 marathon that brought him to the finish in 8:11:24. Schildknecht gave back 4:28 to runner-up Viennot’s race-best 2:48:35 run but maintained a comfortable 8:27 margin of victory.
Diederen opened with a 2:51 lead over Viennot on the swim but gave back 2:58 during the bike. Diederen pulled out all the stops on the marathon, but his 2:48:48 split surrendered 13 more seconds to Viennot and left him 18 seconds behind the Frenchman at the finish.
Anyone watching the women’s swim would have never bet a nickel on Donavan, no matter how generous the odds. Two-time middle distance world champion Jodie Swallow swam a 5th overall including the men 49:56 split, followed 3 minutes later by ITU short course and Ironman veteran Lucie Reed (née Zelenkova) and Serbia’s Svetlana Blazevic.
Donavan, a mother of three who turned pro last year after finishing 2nd in the 35-39 age group at the 2011 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, was 18 minutes down to the internationally renowned Swallow after a 1:07:11 swim split.
On the bike, Donavan stormed to an impressive 4:50:27 mark that smashed every woman in the field but one. Swallow uncorked an even more spectacular 4:46:05 split that gave Swallow a 22- minute lead on her Vermont rival starting the marathon.
Once they started running, Swallow’s leg-injury-plagued last two years came back to haunt her as Donavan came hard with a run that would compensate for her slow swim.
Somewhere near the 21 mile mark of the run, Donavan ran past the struggling superstar on her way to a race-best 3:09:11 run that brought a third career Ironman victory after wins at Lake Placid and Mt. Tremblant last year. Swallow, gritting gamely through a survival mode 3:36:44 run, hung on for 2nd place, 6:02 behind Donavan’s 9:10:58 finish and 10:07 ahead of third place Lucie Reed.
Despite all the heroics, Donavan's finish was not as spectacular as Natascha Badmann's victory at age 45 at this race last year and not nearly as fast as Chrissie Wellington's fastest-ever Ironman race record of 8:33:56 set in 2011.
Dede Griesbauer, who at one point was 2nd overall woman on the bike, had a painful meltdown on the run but soldiered through for a 15th pro and 36th woman finish in 11:40:39.
Ironman South Africa
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
April 14, 2013
S 2.4 mi. /. B 112 mi. / R 26.2 mi.
1. Ronnie Schildknecht (SUI) 8:11:24
2. Cyril Viennot (FRA) 8:19:51
3. Bas Diederen (NED) 8:20:09
4. Horst Reichel (GER) 8:22:34
5. Francois Chabaud (FRA) 8:29:30
6. Herve Faure (FRA) 8:34:20
7. Kyle Buckingham (RSA) 8:34:35 * M30-34
8. Berger Dominik (AUT) 8:43:53
9. Kent Horner (RSA) 8:44:32
10. Karol Djalaj (SLO) 8:45:42
1. Jessie Donavan (USA) 9:10:58
2. Jodie Swallow (GBR) 9:17:00
3. Lucie Reed (CZE) 9:27:07
4. Simone Brändli (SUI) 9:32:34
5. Dianne McEwan (RSA) 9:37:45
6. Monique Grossrieder (SUI) 9:48:22
7. Katharina Grohmann (GER) 9:55:52
8. Nina Pekerman (ISR) 9:59:13
9. Svetlana Blazevic (SRB) 10:08:432
10. Joanna Carritt (GBR) 10:16:59