Defending champions naturally have a target on their back. At the 2009 Ford Ironman World Championship, Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander each dealt with theirs in different ways.
Wellington chose to distance herself as far away from her competitors as possible, making it nearly impossible to even see their target. Alexander, on the other hand, waited until mile 21 of the marathon before he showed the rest of the field his backside.
Both Wellington and Alexander are champions again.
Wellington held more than a six-minute lead at the bike turnaround in Hawi--a lead that seemed to grow with every passing mile. As more split times came in, the 32-year-old Brit's competition shifted from the course to the record books. As she made her way along Ali'i Drive to the finish line, it became apparent that eight-time champion Paula Newby-Fraser's course record was in serious jeopardy.
Wellington has never lost an Ironman she's entered, including the last two World Championships. When she stopped the clock at 8:54:02, she became the fastest woman to cover the Kailua-Kona course by one minute, 26 seconds.
It was only in the last five miles that Wellington realized she was nearing Newby-Fraser's record. "It was in those five miles that I suffered the most," she said. "I feel very humble to have my name holding the course record."
Chrissie Wellington raises her victory wreath.
Photo: Jesse Hammond/Active.com
The Battle for Second
Meanwhile, Australia's Mirinda Carfrae, who came off the bike in ninth, 15 minutes behind second place Tereza Macel, was gradually moving her way forward. In her first ever Ironman-distance race, Carfrae would run a 2:56:51 marathon--a new women's run course record.
Behind her came Virginia Berasategui of Spain, another athlete making her first trip to Kailua-Kona.
Alexander the Great
The outcome of the men's race, while widely predicted, was certainly less cut and dry. Though a pre-race favorite, Craig Alexander was tenth off the bike, 12:13 behind leader Chris Lieto.
Lieto took a 5:23 lead out of the second transition. Hoping to improve on one of his weaker disciplines, Lieto spent much of the past year working on his run with American distance runners Ryan Hall and Josh Cox at altitude in Mammoth, California.
The training held for much of the marathon. But Alexander was running nearly step for step with Andreas Raelert as the two steadily closed the gap between Lieto and themselves. Alexander broke away from Raelert just before the turnaround at the Natural Energy Lab. It also was there that Lieto began to slow.
With five miles to go, the defending champ had caught Lieto.
They stayed together for about 20 seconds before the Aussie pulled away. Lieto tried to respond, but was unable to hold the pace. Alexander crossed the line with the fastest marathon of the day, at 2:48:05, in addition to his second Ironman World Championship title in a row.
Craig Alexander celebrates his second straight Ironman championship.
Photo: Jesse Hammond/Active.com
Men's Top Five
- Craig Alexander -- Australia -- 8:20:21
- Chris Lieto -- United States -- 8:22:56
- Andreas Raelert -- Germany -- 8:24:32
- Chris McCormack -- Australia -- 8:25:20
- Rasmus Henning -- Denmark -- 8:28:17
Women's Top Five
- Chrissie Wellington -- Great Britain -- 8:54:02
- Mirinda Carfrae -- Australia -- 9:13:59
- Virginia Berasategui -- Spain -- 9:15:28
- Tereza Macel -- Canada -- 9:23:43
- Samantha McGlone -- Canada -- 9:30:28