Patience pays off for winners in Ironman World Championship triathlon in St. George

Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf power to victory in 90-degree heat, while Salt Lake City’s Skye Moench places 4th in championship debut

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Competitors in the pro men category prepare to start in the Ironman World Championship triathlon in St. George on Saturday, May 7, 2022.

Patience is said to be a virtue, and Kristian Blummenfelt and Daniela Ryf are virtuosos.

After waiting two years to compete for an Ironman World Championship because of COVID-19, the Norwegian and Swiss triathletes had to bide their time while picking off competitors on the streets of St. George on Saturday. Yet after battling for about eight hours — much of it on hills in dry, 90-degree heat — each bowed their head to accept the winner’s garland.

“That was a brutal course,” the 28-year-old Blummenfelt said.

St. George became the first place outside of Hawaii to host the Ironman’s marquee event after it became evident to organizers last fall that the islands’ stringent coronavirus restrictions would likely prevent them from holding it there for the second straight year. The move meant racers would compete for a title in May, when most had just emerged from winter training in their basements. It meant they would have a freshwater swim in 65-degree water, making it the first championship to require wetsuits. And it meant they would have to deal with hills — lots of hills. The bike route had more than 7,000 feet of elevation gain and the run added another 1,200.

Ryf didn’t mind at all.

She said while biking she thought, “Even if I’m not going to win, I had fun today.”

It showed in her performance. Ryf, winner of four straight championships from 2015-18, got behind on the 2.4-mile swim. Once she was in the saddle for the 112-mile bike ride, though, she streaked to the lead . She held it through the marathon run and dominated the field by crossing in 8 hours, 34 minutes, 59 seconds, holding up her hand at the finish line to represent her five championships. Kat Matthews (8:43:49) of Great Britain took second and defending 2019 champion Anne Haug (8:47:03) placed third. Haug passed Salt Lake City’s own Skye Moench on the opening stretch of the marathon run, but Moench (8:55:21), who has raced several Ironman 70.3 races in St. George, held on for fourth

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Skye Moench competing in the Ironman World Championship triathlon in St. George on Saturday, May 7, 2022.

It’s my first world championship, so it Is special, and to do it in Utah,” she said. “And fourth is a pretty good result. I feel like I did everything I could, and you have to be happy with that.”

Blummenfelt has been having a banner year despite weathering, as all Ironman triathletes have, a myriad of cancellations and deferrals. Last July, he won a gold medal in triathlon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were actually held in 2021.

On Saturday, Blummenfelt fell far behind the lead pack in the swim through Sand Hollow Reservoir. After slowly working his way through the pack, he caught the race leaders on the run and gutted out the finish.

“I was kind of relieved to see I was catching up, catching up. Then I went in front, but there was still 40K to go,” he said. “Luckily the last 5K was downhill.”

Blummenfelt conquered the unique St. George event in a record of 7:49:16. The previous best time, set on a slightly different course in 2011, was 8:32:00. Second overall went to Canadian Lionel Sanders (7:54:03), who passed New Zealand’s Braden Currie in dramatic fashion the last half mile. Chris Leiferman (7:57:43) of Colorado placed fourth as the top American.

“Everyone played to their strengths,” Sanders said. “That was something I’ll never forget.”


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