St. George IM World Championships -- The Contenders

Some of the most significant things missing from the May 7 IRONMAN World Championship at St. George – aside from Kona itself – are the stars who won’t be there: Jan Frodeno is out. Patrick Lange is out. Tim O’Donnell hasn’t fully recovered from his spring 2021 heart attack. Late last month two athletes pulled out with COVID - Olympic silver medalist Javier Gomez and British run specialist Joe Skipper. The women’s field took a big hit when Lucy Charles-Barclay withdrew with a stress fracture in her left hip. And pre-race co-favorite Laura Philipp of Germany appeared to have caught an even more serious case of the flu and canceled her airline reservation. Today, Philipp confirmed she had a COVID diagnosis and is a definite out. Other stars are on the verge of missing – Norwegian superstars Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden have caught wicked colds and hope to recover in time for their highly anticipated debuts. Within just days of the race, Alistair Brownlee and Gustav Iden pulled out.

Just who is left?

With the Ironman World Championship losing the 2020 year to COVID, IRONMAN decided to take advantage of the catch-up to see what it would be like to hold a World Championship away from Kona. With the St. George course, the terrain and the weather could not be more different. In the midst of the American West’s greatest drought, St. George will be extremely dry versus Hawaii’s extreme humidity. While Hawaii has a long climb (600 feet) up to Hawi, St. George’s bike route has 7,300 feet of climbing. As for wind, Hawaii was reliably greater although St. George will have its share. Hawaii’s gorgeous ocean setting will remain unmatched, the mountain setting of St. George will offer its own breathtaking beauty.

What kind of triathletes will benefit? First off, strong cyclists and powerful runners. For the men, Sebastian Kienle, Kristian Blummenfelt, Lionel Sanders, Sam Long, and Cameron Wurf. More balanced competitors will also thrive – Alistair Brownlee (who also won at the 70.3 course at St. George a few years ago), Gustav Iden, Ben Hoffman, and Patrik Nilsson.

As for the women, it is sad to see Lucy Charles-Barclay and her killer bike power will be a non-starter, as is the case with Laura Philipp. If she is back on form, Daniela Ryf (dominating bike record at Kona), will thrive. Heather Jackson will like it. But sorry to see strong cyclist Jen Annett won’t be in the race.

The remaining favorites


Should be a red-hot duel between a deep field of supremely talented men, some of whom with hall of fame credentials. Back when the Norwegian Iron rookies were making a big splash, triathlon mavens were licking their lips over the first clash between Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden. Not to ignore fierce resistance from Lionel Sanders, Alistair Brownlee, Sebastian Kienle, Sam Long and Ben Hoffman.

Kristian Blummenfelt NOR 28
Blummenfelt comes to this race with spectacular credentials: 2021 Olympic gold medal. World best Ironman time 7:21:12 in 2021 Cozumel. Strong 7:42 in second Ironman at Florida. World-best 3:25:21 time at 2019 Ironman 70.3. And a win at Clash Daytona. But before rolling over and handing Blummenfelt the trophy and the check, please note KB’s weak 10th place season opening finish at Dubai 70.3. Also, this will be the first time he has met fellow Norwegian Gustav Iden head-to-head in long course. Blummenfelt also has signed up for the Sub-7 hour Ironman test project scheduled for later this spring.

Gustav Iden NOR 25
In his most recent international test, Iden won his second Ironman 70.3 World Title at the 2021 Ironman 70.3 Worlds in a time of 3:37:13. In his Ironman debut, Iden won 2021 Ironman Florida in 7:42:57. In 2019, Iden won the PTO Championship and beat a healthy Alistair Brownlee for his first Ironman 70.3 World title.

Last minute notice: Tri247 reported that both Blummenfelt and countryman Gustav Iden have been afflicted with colds in the week before the race.

Lionel Sanders CAN 33

This dedicated and talented Canadian had three strong performances in 2021. He ran 7:43 while taking 2nd in the Battle Royale against Jan Frodeno and he finished second to Gustav Iden at Ironman Florida In a time of 7:48:50. Early in the year, he won a down-to-the wire duel with Sam Long at Ironman 70.3 St. George. Back in 2017, Sanders had a breakthrough performance, a second place to Patrick Lange at Ironman Hawaii. In 2019, Sanders won Challenge Daytona. In a multisport benchmark, he set a Canadian cycling record for the one hour in a Canadian velodrome.

Sanders would also like to avenge a 22nd and a 28th finish his last two times at Kona.

Sebastian Kienle GER 37

Since Kienle announced he would retire in 2023, there is an element of drama in his quest to go out on a high note at the Ironman World Championship St. George. Sebastian has been at the pinnacle of the sport since he won the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in 2012 and 2013, and at Kona and Ironman Germany in 2014, and Challenge Roth in 2018. In 2019 Kienle was still in strong form as he took 3rd at Ironman Worlds in 8:02:04 and a 2nd at Ironman Germany. In 2021 Kienle has been coping with several physical issues – tendinitis in his left Achilles and a calf injury – plus he contracted a lingering Covid infection which left him with lingering weakness. But by the end of 2021 he was back on track and took second at Ironman South Africa. The steep climbs at St. George were made for Kienle and gives him a promising shot for a return to his old glory.

Sam Long USA 26
Still young and on a fast-rising curve, Sam Long remains fit in 2022 as he won Clash Miami and Challenge Puerto Varas. Last year he won Ironman Coeur d’Alene, took second to Gustav Iden at Ironman 70.3 Worlds, and took second at Ironman 70.3 St. George after a big duel with Lionel Sanders.

Ben Hoffman USA 38
Hoffman comes to St. George with a fondness for this course as he won the 2012 St. George Ironman. In 2014 he had a career breakthrough with a runner-up finish at Kona and scored 4th place Kona finishes in 2017 and 2019. Coming into this year’s Ironman World Championship in St. George, there was a momentary worry about his fitness when he placed a tepid 13th at Oceanside 70.3. But on April 23, he came right back with a 7:57:42 win at Ironman Texas. While that was a big encouragement, will he have anything left in the tank for May 1?

Alistair Brownlee GBR 33

Brownlee is renowned for his 2012 and 2016 Olympic golds and many Olympic distance ITU wins. While he began his Ironman quest after his second Olympic gold, he has a few memorable long course moments. Brownlee has happy memories of St. George as he won Ironman 70.3 there in May 2017. In 2018, he finished 2nd at Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Nelson Mandela Bay South Africa, one minute behind winner Jan Frodeno. Brownlee proved his long course mettle as he surged past 5-time Olympic distance World Champion Javier Gomez to take the silver. In 2019 he had an off-day 21st at Ironman Hawaii and then won Ironman Western Australia in 7:45:21.

After missing most of 2021 due to a recurrence of a 2015 ankle injury, Brownlee had a return to form in April 2022 as he took an early lead at Oceanside 70.3. He led most of the way until he ran out of energy and Jackson Laundry, Lionel Sanders and Rudy Von Berg passed him. “I was very happy to be on the start line,” said Brownlee with proper British modesty. “I must be a bit rusty. I had plenty of ups and downs, and hung on for 4th place.”

Daniel Baekkegard DEN 26
The Dane has moved up fast from a 2019 pro start where he took 2nd at Ironman 70.3 Bahrain, and won Ironman Austria and Ironman 70.3 Finland. In his Kona baptism that year, he took 15th. He came on strong in 2021 when he took 3rd at Ironman 70.3 Worlds and at Ironman Tulsa, then won Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote. This year, he took 2nd at Ironman 70.3 Dubai in 3:27:40, headlined by a 1:09:29 run.

Matt Hanson USA 36

Hanson’s breakthrough was a win at Ironman Texas in 2015, and he won went on to win that race two more times and subsequently won two more Ironman titles. In 2019 he won Ironman Boulder, and in 2020 he placed significant seconds at Ironman Florida and at the PTO Championships at Daytona. In 2021, Hanson took 4th at CLASH Daytona, and notched second places at Ironman Florida and at Ironman 70.3 Florida. Most recently, Hanson maintained form with a second place at Challenge Puerto Varas.

Braden Currie NZL 35
After a stellar XTERRA performances, Currie jumped into long course in 2017 with a 5th at Ironman Hawaii and a win at Ironman New Zealand. In 2019 he won Ironman Cairns, and took 7th at Ironman Hawaii with stellar splits – a 47:41 swim and a 2:46:25 marathon for an 8:03:00 time. In 2021 h won Ironman New Zealand in a time of 7:57:12 and took 6th at Challenge Roth.

Bart Aernouts BEL 37
The Belgian earned attention with wins at Challenge Roth and Ironman Lanzarote. In 2018 Aernouts earned serious respect with a second-place finish at Kona in 7:56:42 and a win at Ironman Hamburg. In 2019 he displayed his affinity for St. George with a 2nd place finish at the 70.3 distance. And in 2020, he won Ironman 70.3 Dubai.

Chris Leiferman USA 35
Leiferman broke through in 2018 with Ironman wins at Boulder and Louisville. In 2020 he won Ironman Boulder and the Great Floridian.

Cameron Wurf AUS 38
Wurf was an Olympic rower and later a professional cyclist before taking up triathlon in 2016. His Ironman victories include Wales in 2017, Australia and Italy (7:44:51) in 2019, and Copenhagen (7:46:06) in 2021. His top Ironman Hawaii performance was 5th in 2019. He set a record for top cycling split at Kona (4:09:06) in 2018. Wurf’s average Ironman swim is 48-49 minutes which puts him in the back of the front pack. Often his cycling puts him in the front pack, and his Ironman run ranges from 2:45 to 2:55. Also, he has done some cycling coaching for Lionel Sanders.

David McNamee GBR 34
McNamee, a Scot, made his pro breakthroughs with third place finishes at Kona in 2017 (8:07:11) and 2018 (8:01:09 – third fastest finisher at that date) After a few consistent but unspectacular years, McNamee found his stride in 2021 with a 3rd place finish at Ironman Germany in 8:02:28 highlighted by a 2:42:58 marathon. Most recent form was a forgettable 12th place at Oceanside 70.3 last month.

Max Neumann AUS 27
The young Australian has a short but remarkably consistent record as a podium finisher. He has wins at 2019 Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney and Gerardmer XL; Ironman Cairns in 2020, Ironman Cairns and Challenge Shepparton in 2021. Most recent – 3rd at 2022 Challenge Shepparton.

Andy Potts USA 45

Potts is a remarkable U.S. veteran triathlete with 58 race wins, 30 Ironman 70.3 wins, 8 Ironman victories, 1st at the 2007 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, and he earned a spot on the 2004 U.S. Olympic men’s triathlon team 22 months after taking up the sport. His best Ironman World Championship finishes were 4th in 2014 and 2015.

Patrick Nilsson SWE 30

Since 2014, Nilsson won 5 Ironman titles including Malaysia (2014) Sweden (2015) Copenhagen and Barcelona (2016), Texas (2019) and Frankfurt (2021) in a time of 7:59:21. His best finish at Kona was 8th place in 2017.


Anne Haug GER 39

Haug had a respectable career as an ITU Olympic distance competitor and two-time Olympian until she switched to long distance racing in 2017 and with her swift feet started to rule. In 2018 she placed 3rd at the Ironman 70.3 Worlds and 3rd in her first try at Kona and won Ironman 70.3 Dubai.

In 2019 she won the Ironman World Championship with a 4:50:17 bike, 2:50:07 run and an 8:40:10 overall time. In 2020, Haug placed 2nd at the PTO Championship at Daytona. In 2021 she won Challenge Roth in 7:53:48 with a 4:14:14 bike and 2:43:54 run. She also proved she could win on a brutally hilly bike course, winning Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote in 4:30:30 with a 2:35:19 bike split and a 1:20:47 run. Haug has an otherworldly consistency in which she makes up for a weak swim with a strong bike. With her slight frame and excellent power-to-weight ratio she will handle St. George’s hills and hilly run terrain with aplomb.

What is her recent form? Placed second at Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote with an excellent 2:33:49 bike split and stellar 1:16:03 run.

Daniela Ryf SUI 34
Ryf is a 9-time Ironman World Champion – 5-times Ironman 70.3 and 4-times Ironman – and was virtually unbeatable from 2015 through 2021. The apogee of her triumphs came in 2018 when she smashed the women’s Kona records with a 57:27 swim, an astounding 4:26:07 bike split and a 2:57:05 marathon adding up to an all-time women’s record 8:26:18 overall time. She backed that up with a 4:01:13 winning time at the 70.3 Worlds.

Based on her entire Ironman history, Ryf should be a shoe-in at St. George – she won St. George 70.3 in 2021 in 4:05:46 – but recently she has occasionally had off-form performances. At Kona in 2019, she finished 13th. In 2021, and she placed 11th in 4:09:17 at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. While she had a decent 2nd place at the most recent Ironman 70.3 Dubai, (behind strong competitor Laura Philipp of Germany) and she won the 2021 editions of Ironman Tulsa and Ironman Switzerland, she had a hard day at Oceanside 70.3 this April. Ryf crossed the line in 10th position, but was disqualified for speeding on a speed-controlled downhill. “Most likely the only segment on the course where I was the fastest today.”

After missing all races in 2020, she revealed she had been struggling with personal issues and had split with her longtime coach last year.

Laura Philipp GER 35 - Withdrawn - COVID

Just to let you know what you are missing: The still-rising German star was primed to race at St. George, especially since she defeated Daniela Ryf at her season opener at Ironman 70.3 Dubai in March. At that race, Philipp set a new Ironman 70.3 world record for women of 3:53:04. In an Instagram post on April 29, Philipp wrote: “I wanted to be in St. George already, but I had to cancel my flight. It’s like a nightmare but I have unfortunately caught a serious cold, which is currently keeping me in bed with a high fever.” A Covid diagnosis this week removed all hope.

Philipp had a career breakthrough with a third place at Ironman 70.3 Worlds in 2017. In 2018, Philipp posted the fastest Ironman debut (8:34:57) at Ironman Barcelona. In 2019 Philipp solidified her rising promise with a 4th place finish at the last Ironman World Championship. In 2021, Philipp had a 3-race Ironman win streak which included the European Championship, Finland and Austria. In 2020 and 2021 Philipp placed 3rd at the prestigious PTO Championships.

Heather Jackson USA 39

The former college hockey player now has recorded six Ironman wins (including Lake Placid, Arizona, Coeur d’Alene, Vitoria Gasteiz, Ironman Florida and Chattanooga) and 12 Ironman 70.3 victories. She also improved her Kona finishes (including 3rd in 2016, 4th in 2017 and 5th places in 2015 and 2019.) Jackson also posted a second place at the 2013 Ironman 70.3 Worlds. Recent highlights include 4th at the 2021 edition of Ironman Tulsa.

Skye Moench USA 33
Her big breakthrough was a win at Ironman Germany in 2019, followed by a win at Ironman 70.3 Boulder. In 2021 she won Ironman 70.3 Texas, took 3rd at Ironman Tulsa, won Ironman Chattanooga and took 2nd at Ironman Florida. Her strength will fit the hard climbs at St. George which suit her like a glove as she set recent Ironman bike splits of 4:39:49, 4:44:02, 4:53:03 and 4:41:30. Her runs are decent but not spectacular – her Ironman PB is 2:56:56. She also has grit as she suffered bad crash in training in 2019 which knocked her out of Kona. Recent form, like many St. George competitors, is unspectacular as she finished 8th at Oceanside 70.3

Katrina Matthews GBR 31
Matthews is another triathlete who can boast of her consistency. From her 2019 breakthrough 2nd place at Ironman Finland, a quick rise to an 8:44:58 win at 2020 Ironman Florida, to her 2021 win at Ironman UK and 4th place at 2021 Ironman 70.3 Worlds and a nice turn at the Collins Cup - Kat was always quick. No letdown in 2022 as she won Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote in a time of 4:19:40.

Lisa Norden SWE 37

Norden will always be known for her stirring battle at the 2012 London Olympics where she fell a few inches behind Nicola Spirig in a photo finish for the gold. Since she switched to long course in 2017, she has acquired a rich trove of podium finishes. Highlights started in 2018 with a win at Ironman 70.3 Sweden. In 2019 she added 2nd at Challenge Prague, 3rd places at Challenge Daytona and Sweden 70.3, a win at 20520 Gydnia 70.3. In 2021 she added wins at Ironman Lake Placid and Challenge Salou. Seeing the rugged hills of St, George, Norden is well armed, taking into account of her stint as a professional cyclist and four national titles in the time trial in Sweden.

Jocelyn McCauley USA 34
McCauley got her career fired up in 2019 with a win at Ironman New Zealand and a second at Ironman Texas. But this year she revved it up even further with a win at Ironman Texas in 8:58:13, featuring a 4:43:04 bike split.

Laura Siddall GBR 41
Siddall Is a five-time Ironman winner, highlights including 2018 wins at Ironman New Zealand, Ironman Australia and Challenge Madrid. Then in 2019 a repeat win at Ironman Australia and 3rd places at Challenge Wanaka, Ironman Wales, and Challenge Cape Town. In 2021 she got silvers at Ironman Lanzarote and Challenge Roth. Current form? Silver at 2022 Challenge Puerto Varas.

Meredith Kessler USA 43
Kessler is an 11-time Ironman winner, her latest a win at Ironman Arizona in 2020.

Linsey Corbin USA 41

Bend Oregon resident Corbin has completed 28 Ironmans – and is aiming at extending her list of Ironman World Championship appearances to 14. She has won 8 Ironmans including 2010 Coeur d’Alene, 2012 Austria, 2012 Arizona, 2014 Los Cabos, 2014 and 2014 Austria, 2018 Wisconsin. Her top Kona result was 5th in 2008. Her best Ironman 70.3 Worlds was 3rd in 2011. Her grit is unquestionable as in 2015 she contracted viral and bacterial infections, then took 10th place Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in St. George in May. She tried to race the Ironman North American Championships later that month, but pulled a hip flexor and tests revealed she had a stress fracture in her femur. Unable to heal in time she missed the Ironman World Championship for the first time since 2005.