In 2006, Samantha McGlone came from behind with a stellar run to take a well deserved victory. In 2007, Mirinda Carfrae came from 6 minutes down off the bike to run 1:18:41 and take the championship. Last year, Joanna Zeiger proved to the world that age is just a number as she won her first world title at the age of 38 with a new world best for the distance of 4:02:48
As in previous years, many of the Clearwater winners have moved on to the quest for success at Ironman Hawaii and don’t want to chance stressing their bodies just a month after Kona. So Mirinda Carfrae and Samantha McGlone are not returning. But there remains great contenders and fierce racing.
Julie Dibens, 34, GBR -- 7-2
It’s not because she is the first ever three-time women’s Xterra World Champion, and it’s not because she is a recovering two-time Olympian, and it’s not because she is one of the strongest women cyclists in triathlon – although all threes things mark her as a world class clutch triathlon performer. No, Julie Dibens is this pundit’s pick to win the 2009 Ironman 70.3 World Championship because she kicked Chrissie Wellington’s butt at the Boulder 5430 long course triathlon this summer right in between CW’s epochal record breaking performances at Roth and Kona. On that day in Boulder, Dibens smashed the course record with a stunningly fast 4:10:58 time, her 2:12:10 bike bested Wellington by 4 minutes, and she held on in the run to win by several minutes. Oh yes. And the fact that Dibens said that while another Xterra World Title was good, “my focus this year is Clearwater.” Last year she biked to the lead and then faded to 4th at Clearwater, but is determined not to surrender this time around.
Jodie Swallow, 28, GBR -- 4-1
This multiple junior titlist went long this year with a vengeance, beating ITU World Championship Series star performer Andrea Hewitt at the Singapore 70.3 by an astounding 7 minutes. At the ITU long course World Championship (twice Olympic distance) in Perth, her 4:07:38 finish was 11 minutes clear of runner-up Rebekah Keat and many more miles ahead of a good international field.
Laura Bennett, 34, USA -- 6-1
The four-time ITU World Championship medalist fought all year to recover from leg injuries she incurred during Olympic training and racing. Once things started to clear up, Bennett decided to join her also-recovering-from-injuries hubby Greg on a lark – a trip to the Augusta 70.3 in September. When the race was done, husband and wife both won and qualified for Clearwater. Laura’s 4:18:36 beat Kelly Williamson by just six seconds, and she ran a third-best 1:23:17. While long ago Laura Bennett had a rep as a weak cyclist, those who accompany her on rides up Boulder’s steep canyons know she is one of the sport’s strongest – and has a killer run and killer final sprint to boot.
Sarah Groff, 27, USA -- 8-1
Groff was the highest ranking US woman on the 2008 ITU World Cup circuit and showed she had long course potential early this year by almost winning the highly competitive California Ironman 70.3 in Oceanside. She lost her lead in the final mile to the usually dominant Mirinda Carfrae by a sliver-thin 21-second margin
Joanna Zeiger, 39, USA -- 9-1
The defending Ironman 70.3 champ is not given abnormally long odds because she simply turned 39. After all, she’s already proved that age is just a number for the Johns Hopkins-trained PhD in genetic epidemiology. No, it was the puzzling attacks of dizziness that forced her to withdraw from several races this year, culminating with a scary, on-the-ground episode at her home town Boulder 5430 long course race. After several weeks of agonizing medical sleuthing, Zeiger’s doctors discovered that her lowering blood pressure near the end of longer races was due to a dangerous lack of salt. Once she chucked the low salt diet, Zeiger made it through the Austin 70.3 with a win in her second fastest time ever at the distance -- 4:14:53. If her increased salt intake is indeed the answer, Zeiger can fight it out with Dibens, Bennett and Swallow for the win.
Samantha Warriner, 38, NZL -- 9-1
The 2008 ITU World Cup series points champion won a few 70.3 races, taking the Steelhead 70.3 this year in 4:17:57, combining a 2:22:57 best bike and a second best 1:27:00 run to whip Leanda Cave by 11 minutes.
Mary Beth Ellis, 32, USA -- 11-1
Last year’s surprise Ironman 70.3 silver medalist struggled with some early season woes but still managed to win the PATCO Pan Am Championship in Oklahoma City and the prestigious Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon and finished in the top 20 of the prestigious Hy-Vee Triathlon and three ITU World Championship Series races.
Leanda Cave, 31, GBR -- 12-1
The 2002 ITU Olympic distance world champion has become a very fine long course triathlete and has entered Ironman Hawaii and several other Ironman events with her high hopes but remains just a few steps from fulfilling her tremendous promise at the longer distance. She has several top finishes at 70.3 events – 2nd places at St. Croix in 2005, and Eagleman and Florida in 2006, 3rd at California in 2007. In the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, she finished fourth at Clearwater in 2006 and third place in 2007. In 2008, she won her first Ironman 70.3 event at Florida, but faded to 9th at Clearwater. In 2009, she maintained one of the best records at the Ironman 70.3 distance, taking 3rd at California, 2nd at Wildflower, and winning Florida by a margin of 8 minutes over runner-up Jo Lawn.
Michellie Jones, 40, AUS -- 13-1
The winningest woman in triathlon history has ITU World titles in 1992 and 1993, a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics, an Ironman Hawaii title in 2006 and dominating 8-win records at prestigious non-drafting classics. After a painful ear infection knocked her out of the Ironman World Championship two years ago, Jones has carefully come back to form and has in some promising results upon turning 40 – a win at Rhode Island 70.3a third place at Lake Stevens and a win at Cancun.
Rebeccah Wassner, 34, USA -- 14-1
This tough New Yorker won the New York City triathlon and took second places to Mirinda Carfrae at the Muskoka 70.3 and on the challenging hills of the Rev3 Triathlon where she finished just 52 seconds out of the win.
Magali Tisseyre, 28, CAN -- 15-1
This Canadian has become a true threat in Ironman 70.3 races. In a busy 2009 race schedule she took 6th at New Orleans, 3rd at Florida, and won over Linsey Corbin and Samantha McGlone at Boise with a stellar 4:12:29 time highlighted by a very strong 2:16:28 bike on a tough course and race best 1:24 run. Later she was 4th at Timberman and Muskoka.
Nina Kraft , 41, GER -- 16-1
At age 41, Kraft has rebuilt her career with many solid Ironman 70.3 performances. In 2009, she took 5th places at New Orleans and St Croix, a 4th place at Kansas, with a 1:23:16 run, and a 3rd at Steelhead with a race-best 1:27 run.
Amy Marsh, 31, USA -- 22-1
Marsh has emerged as a 70.3 force with a 3rd place behind Chrissie Wellington and Pip Taylor at Kansas and a win at Buffalo Springs Lake in 4:33:36.
Karin Thuerig, 37, SUI -- 24-1
This 6-foot tall former volleyball player from Switzerland has a tremendous resume: Two gold, one silver and one bronze at cycling’s time trial World Championships, two time trial bronze medals at the Olympics, three Ironman victories, and two long distance duathlon gold medals. If she could swim with any proficiency, she might well have scored a podium finish at Ironman Hawaii. Recently, she has just kept her hand in multisport with a 4th place at the 2009 edition of Ironman 70.3 Switzerland. But with a shorter swim, a course that rewards brute power on the bike, and a very decent run on shorter courses, Thurig should be a factor in Clearwater.
Brooke Davison, 38, USA -- 27-1
Professional triathlon’s latest mother of three (following in the footsteps of Jan Ripple and Heather Gollnick) turned pro in 2008 and scored two impressive finishes in 2009 Ironman 70.3 races – a 4th at Boise and a third at Boulder 5430 long course in 4:24:00, behind only Julie Dibens and Chrissie Wellingtion.