Welcome to Mooloolaba

The first Ironman championship held in the southern hemisphere comes to the spectacular Sunshine Coast and features an incredible pro field and huge age-group contingent. TriathlonWorld.com prepares for a busy weekend of coverage.

| September 2, 2016 | RACES

Mooloolaba press conference | From left to right: Tim Reed, Lionel Sanders, Craig Alexander and Sebastian Kienle.

From left to right: Tim Reed, Lionel Sanders, Craig Alexander and Sebastian Kienle.

Photo >Lennart Klocke

In case you thought that the world's athletes might not want to fly across the world to compete at a 70.3 world championship, think again. This year's event, held in Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast, Australia has attracted 3,000 athletes from 80 countries to a place they can hardly pronounce (it takes a while to get Mooloolaba figured out for us non-Australians) in order to be able to compete with the very best.

The region is called the Sunshine Coast and its not hard to see why – beautiful beaches and lots of sunshine even during the first day of spring, which we enjoyed here yesterday – make this a spectacular spot to hold a race.

How nice is the Sunshine Coast? In 2004 Caroline Steffen came here to travel and work after she finished school and decided she had to spend Christmas here rather than head home to the snow and mountains of Switzerland. When she came here in 2009 to train it didn’t take long before she decided that this was a perfect place to live and train. She called home and said this time she really wasn’t coming back.

In addition to being an idyllic training spot, the Sunshine Coast  has become an amazing spot to race, as thousands of athletes will find out over the next few days. There’s been an Ironman 70.3 event here for the past few years, so they know exactly what they’re in for – just on a grander scale than normal.

To get here the athletes competed at one of 85 Ironman 70.3 events around the world. It’s the first time an Ironman world championship event has taken place in the southern hemisphere. Today no-less an expert than three-time Kona champ (and two-time Ironman 70.3 world champ) Craig Alexander pointed out that the Australian press have been starving for a major event in their country for years – a chance to showcase just how important the sport is in this country.

Women’s race

Anyone who is betting against Daniela Ryf this weekend must know something the rest of the world doesn’t about the Swiss star who has been virtually unbeatable since she limped into Brett Sutton’s training group in 2014. Sutton and Ryf have come up with both an unbelievable fitness regimen and also an amazing mental approach that allows her to deal with all the pressure and, well, have fun as she decimates the world’s best. This is a woman who was literally minutes off Chrissie Wellington’s seemingly untouchable world best time in Roth last month and still managed to dance across the line with a big smile on her face. (I’m not joking, either. Watch the video of her finish. She literally danced.)

Ryf is looking to three-peat here in Mooloolaba, which seems entirely do-able. But her not winning in Frankfurt earlier this year seemed unthinkable, too, and she didn’t thanks to a case of hypothermia that forced her out of the race on the bike. On that day another two-time Ironman 70.3 champion, Melissa Hauschildt (AUS), took the title. She’s certainly one of the most likely of contenders for the crown, especially if Ryf falters in any way on Sunday.

Steffen is another woman to watch, especially since she knows the course so well and might be the only woman in the field who can match Ryf in the water and on the bike. Canadian Heather Wurtele has been on fire over the 70.3 distance this year, so she’ll be another to keep an eye on, especially since she’s been working her way up the podium – third in Mont-Tremblant two years ago, second in Zell Am See last year.

It’s a sign of just how impressive this field is when names like the UK’s Leanda Cave (2012 70.3 and Kona champ), Linsey Corbin (USA) and Magali Tisseyre (CAN) aren’t ones that are brought up in the first breath when talking about contenders, but that’s the way the 70.3 worlds have become these days – almost everyone in the field has a 70.3 or half-distance title to their name. That’s what it takes to be competitive here.

Men’s race

If the women’s race is competitive, the men’s race needs a new word to adequately describe it. While Jan Frodeno isn’t here to defend his title, pretty much anyone else on the planet who you’d think could viably win this title (OK, except for Javier Gomez, but he wasn’t ever coming thanks to Rio) is in this field.

Sebastian Kienle (GER), a two-time champ at the world 70.3 champs, arrives wearing race number two after his runner up finish last year, but a win here won’t be easy. He took Frankfurt this year, seemingly willing himself across the line ahead of everyone else. He’ll likely have to race with that kind of resolve again to become the first man to win three 70.3 world titles.

The other man who has a chance to match that feat is Australia’s own Alexander. Since he’s won 28 70.3 titles during his career, including a few this year, you wouldn’t want to bet against Alexander, but, at 43, it would be an incredible achievement for him to take the win here on Sunday.

One man lots of people talking about possibly taking that title is Canada’s Lionel Sanders, who has taken six 70.3 titles this year along with a couple of runner-up finishes. He had a big win over Kienle in St. George, Utah earlier this year, too. Andreas Dreitz is another athlete people are talking about thanks to his win in Wiesbaden earlier in the month, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to hold off the speedy runners in this field. That said, he did it in Wiesbaden, what’s stopping him from doing it again.

And what about names like Terenzo Bozzone, the 2008 70.3 world champ, who’s been able to sneak around Mooloolaba the last few days without much attention. Or Luke McKenzie, who hails from just a short jaunt north of us here in Mooloolaba. Or Tim Don, formerly a world short course champion who has made an impressive move to Ironman racing. Or Tyler Butterfield, or local favorite Tim Reed, or another home-country star who is determined to at least be the fastest Aussie, Joe Gambles, or … the list could go on for a while.

Suffice it to say we’re in for a great day of racing in a spectacular venue.

Welcome to Mooloolaba. Welcome to the world’s best.