Last year the Slowtwitch prediction of an epic Daniela Ryf vs. Mirinda Carfrae duel jinxed that prospect. In a pre-race article we outlined the likely back and forth of these two combatants in nerdy detail: Ryf’s average 57 minute swim would gain her a 3 minute advantage over the three-time champion. Ryf’s average 4:54 bike split would add another 10 minutes to her advantage over Carfrae. Then Rinny’s 2:50 run would beat Ryf’s average 3:06 Kona run by 16 minutes and give her the victory.
Instead Madame Pele threw a wrench into those expectations. Three days before the race, a car cut in front of Carfrae, injuring the defending champion's shoulder and left side muscles. Carfrae dropped out on the bike, so Ryf ran to glory.
This year, with Rachel Joyce, Liz Blatchford and Caroline Steffen taking the year off, odds are Ryf and Carfrae will outshine a strong field of women, if both can arrive at the start in top form.
Favorites are listed in order of preference.
1. Mirinda Carfrae, 35, Australia
Carfrae fully recovered from her Kona injury and launched a conservative 2016 buildup designed to bring her to a peak on October 8. After two 3rd place finishes at 70.3s and an 8th place at St. George 70.3, Carfrae took on her mid-season target in Austria where she was prepared for a B-plus effort, saving her biggest punch for Kona. After a 59:15 swim, a 4:47:39 ride and a personal best 2:49:06 run split, Carfrae broke the Ironman Austria women’s race record with an 8:41:17 time. Ryf answered at Roth with a 49:10 swim, 4:31:29 bike split and 2:57:40 run to finish in 8:22:04. Did that diminish Carfrae’s optimism? If conditions are right in Kona, Carfrae is ready to cut a few minutes off her usual one hour swim, cut a few minutes off her 4:58:20 Kona PR bike split, and break the 2:50 marathon barrier.
2. Daniela Ryf, 29, Switzerland
After last year’s dream season in which Ryf won the Ironman 70.3 Worlds and the Ironman World Championship by double digit margins and swept the $1 million payout for the Triple Crown races, she had an excuse for a letdown. But Ryf started strong as she won the first leg of the $1 million Triple Crown at Dubai 70.3 in January. Things got complicated in mid-year as Ryf dropped out of Ironman Frankfurt shivering with hypothermia. Lured by the classic Challenge Roth, Ryf came within 4 minutes of breaking Chrissie Wellington’s world best at the Ironman distance. Which left Ryf racing Ironman Switzerland just a week later to validate her Kona entry, where she proved her strength by crushing the field with an 8:51:50 clocking. However, the burden of recovering from a hypothermic outing followed by back-to-back Ironman performances proved Ryf is human, as she faded to 4th at the Ironman 70.3 Worlds - the second leg of the $1 million Triple Crown - and forfeited her shot at a second $1 million payday.
With five weeks to recoup her fitness under the guidance of coach Brett Sutton, Ryf can avenge her 2014 Kona loss to Carfrae and win the rematch. But she is not a sure bet as or fit as she would have been had Frankfurt been held on a sunny summer day.
3. Melissa Hauschildt, 33, Australia
Last minute injuries have delayed the Hauschildt’s Kona debut for a few years. Hauschildt’s two Ironman 70.3 World titles and this year’s strong runner-up finish to Holly Lawrence at 70.3 Worlds add anticipation to this year’s race. With dozens of 70.3 titles and her sub-1:17 half marathon run splits, all she needed was a credible Ironman performance. Hauschildt delivered with a win at Ironman Australia in 2014, wins at Ironman Melbourne and Challenge Melbourne in 2015, and her domination of Ironman Frankfurt this summer.
4. Jodie Swallow, 35, Great Britain
Fans who Follow the Swallow know Jodie has been building for an epic day at Kona for seven years. It started with a win at ITU long distance Worlds in 2009, then an Ironman 70.3 World title in 2010. An 8:54 win at Ironman Sweden and an 8:57 runner-up at Ironman Frankfurt in 2013 augured well. A 2nd at Ironman 70.3 Worlds and a 4th at Kona in 2014 raised hopes even higher for Kona glory. Last year she posted a win at 2015 Ironman South Africa, and this year Swallow had a dominating win at Ironman Cairns and a second gold at ITU long distance Worlds. But as that was just two weeks before Kona, does Swallow have enough energy left?
5. Heather Wurtele, 37, Canada
Wurtele finished 3rd, 2nd and 3rd at Ironman 70.3 Worlds in 2014, 2015 and 2016, won Ironman 70.3 St. George in 2015 and 2016, and has 18 Ironman 70.3s wins in all. She has also won six Ironmans. But so far Kona is another story, where she finished 8th in 2011, 14th in 2012, DNF in 2013, 15th in 2014, and DNF in 2015. Might her 2016 70.3 results (wins at St. George, Monterrey, Oceanside and Victoria) finally translate to Kona?
6. Heather Jackson, 32, USA
This 3-time Wildflower winner and runner-up at Ironman 70.3 Worlds in 2013 translated her talents to the Ironman distance with a win at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2015, a 5th place in her Kona debut last year, and a women’s course record at Ironman Lake Placid this year.
7. Mary Beth Ellis, 39, USA
The Honey Badger has a stellar career record with 11 Ironman victories, two silver medals at Ironman 70.3 Worlds, and a win at the 2015 ITU long distance Worlds. After losing months recovering from Lyme disease early in 2016, she returned to form with wins at Ironman Maastricht and Ironman Mt. Tremblant. She appears ready to top her best Kona result – 5th in 2012.
8. Yvonne Van Vlerken, 37, Netherlands
Van Vlerken is an 11-time Ironman winner with 10 sub-9-hour finishes at the Ironman distance, topped by an 8:43:07 at Ironman Florida in 2013. Van Vlerken’s best Kona performances have been a 2nd in 2008 and 4th in 9:04:34 in 2013. This year she won Challenge Wanaka and Challenge Rimini, took 2nd at Kraichgau and St. Polten 70.3s, and was 3rd at Challenge Roth in 8:49:35.
9. Susie Cheetham, 30, Great Britain
Cheetham proved she can contend at the biggest races with a 6th at Kona and a 7th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds last year. She also placed 3rd at Ironman South Africa in 2015 and 2nd at the Ironman Africa Championship this year.
10. Julia Gajer, 34, Germany
Gajer has been a consistent Ironman competitor with a win at Ironman Arizona and a 3rd at Challenge Roth in 2013, a 6th at Kona and a 2nd at Ironman Texas in 2014, a 2nd at Ironman Frankfurt in 2015, and a win at the Ironman North American Championship this year.
11. Leanda Cave, 38, Great Britain
Superbird already has a hall of fame career with a 2002 ITU Olympic distance World Championship, a 2007 ITU long distance world title, and her magnificent 2012 double - wins at the Ironman 70.3 and Ironman World Championships. She has also shown great resilience throughout her career. Most recently, she came back from multiple ailments in 2013 and last year she crashed badly at Kona but rebounded with a 2nd at 2015 Ironman Cozumel, and this year took 3rd at Ironman France.
12. Lucy Gossage, 36, Great Britain
This cancer doctor has an admirable long course record including 3 wins at Ironman UK, Ironman wins at Wales and Lanzarote, plus 2nd places at Zofingen, Ironman South Africa, Ironman Barcelona, Ironman Lanzarote, Ironman New Zealand, and two runners-up at Alpe d’Huez. Her Kona ambitions were whetted with a 10th place last year, but a broken collarbone 54 days from October 8 makes her 2016 Kona quest her hardest test.
13. Elizabeth Lyles, 38, USA
Lyles began her Kona career with a 7th in 2014 and an off-day 14th last year. The two-time Wildflower winner and 2nd place finisher at Ironman Frankfurt stepped up this year with an 8:54:10 win at the Ironman South America Championship in Brazil.
14. Carrie Lester, 35, Australia
Lester is a top 10, even a top 5, contender at Kona due to two strong recent performances – an 8:56:00 win at 2015 Ironman Chattanooga and an 8:42:12 2nd place at Challenge Roth where she was 20 minutes behind Daniela Ryf but 7 minutes ahead of Yvonne Van Vlerken.
15. Camilla Pedersen, 33, Denmark
Pedersen continues her remarkable recovery from a September 2013 bike crash that left her in a coma. In 2014 she won the ITU long distance Worlds, in 2015 she won 3 70.3s, took 2nd at ITU long distance Worlds, and placed 8th at Kona. This year Pedersen was 2nd to Wurtele at Monterrey 70.3 and 3 minutes ahead of Carfrae; and 2nd to Olympic silver medalist Nicola Spirig at Haugesund 70.3.
16. Linsey Corbin, 35, USA
The American women’s Ironman record holder with her 8:42:42 at 2014 Ironman Austria has staged a comeback after a string of injuries and illnesses (broken femur, chest infection, stung by an insect in the ear resulting in an allergic reaction) limited her to just one race in 2015. She began a comeback this year with a 5th at Panama 70.3 and 3rds at San Juan and Brazil 70.3s, and topped that with a 2nd at Ironman Cairns.
17. Tine Deckers, 38, Belgium
Deckers proved she is on target for Kona with wins at San Juan 70.3, Pays d’Aix 70.3 and Ironman France, and a 2nd at Ironman UK.
18. Anja Beranek, 31, Germany
Beranek looked primed to score a top finish at Kona last year with wins at Challenge Roth and Ironman Wales plus a runner-up at Wiesbaden 70.3 and a 3rd at Ironman 70.3 Worlds. Sadly, she DNF at Kona. This year, Beranek won Kraichgau 70.3, took 2nd at the South America 70.3 Championship, 3rd at St. Polten 70.3, 4th at Wiesbaden 70.3, and 5th at Challenge Roth.
19. Annabel Luxford, 34, Australia
The 4-time ITU World Cup winner and 2005 ITU Olympic distance World Championship runner-up is making a transition to long course that includes a 12th at 2015 Ironman Worlds, a 6th at 2016 Ironman 70.3 Worlds, and two 70.3 wins.
20. Meredith Kessler, 38, USA
This 11-time Ironman winner, 5-time Ironman New Zealand champ and multiple 70.3 winner struggled to find her groove at Kona. So far she has finished 17th in 2008, 26th in 2010, 7th in 2013, DNF in 2014, and 26th last year.
21. Sarah Piampiano, 36, USA
Piampiano has had at least 7 podiums in 70.3s in the past three years and a solid Ironman showing with wins at 2015 Western Australia and 2016 Vineman, plus a 3rd at 2015 Ironman Austria, 6th at 2015 Ironman Texas, and 7th in her 2015 Kona debut.
22. Michelle Vesterby, 33, Denmark
This exuberant Danish woman avenged 2015 Ironman DNFs at Frankfurt and UK with an 8:59:49 win at Ironman Copenhagen and a sparkling 4th at Kona. So far in 2016 she has had less spectacular but more consistent results – a 6th at Challenge Roth and a 5th at Cannes International – but no DNFs.
23. Kaisa Lehtonen, 35, Finland
On the run she is a flying Finn with a 1:18 run split at Ironman 70.3 Dubai and consistency at every distance including 2nd in 2014 and 3rd in 2015 at the ITU long distance Worlds, an 8:48:40 2nd place at 2015 Ironman Barcelona, and a win at the 2016 Ironman African Championship.
24. Lisa Roberts, 39, USA
A relatively late bloomer in the pro women long distance ranks, Roberts had an excellent 2015 with a 2nd place finishes at Ironman France (2:54 marathon), Alpe d’Huez and Ironman Chattanooga, plus a 3rd at Ironman Mt. Tremblant. This year in 70.3s, Roberts took 2nd at Panama, 3rd at Texas, and 4th at the South American 70.3 Championships.