Haikou, China -- Ironman China, presented by K-SWISS, is shaping up to be a showcase race as a host of high profile international athletes turn their attention to the race that many say most mimics the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The race will be held on April 19th at Haikou, Hainan Island, China.
Much of the pre-race speculation focuses on 2008 Danish Olympian, Rasmus Henning. After racing short course for the best part of his storied career, Henning is following his heart to the toughest race on earth: Ironman. The word on the street is that Henning is a potential Ironman World Champion, given his long distance debut races where he won a Gold and Silver Medal at the 2000 and 2001 ITU World Championships. After this stunning debut, Henning turned his attention to Olympic distance racing, including a top 10 finish at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. The great Dane is confident that China is the right destination for a smooth transition back to longer distance racing. “The conditions are pretty similar to those of Hawaii, and I wish to prepare myself well for the Ironman World Championships,” Henning said of his official Ironman debut in China. “I intend to be on the podium at the very least in China, though if everything works out well for me, I think I’ll have a good shot at winning. Mid-April will be perfect for me, and I hope to be in excellent shape.”
Returning to China with equally high hopes are Tim Marr (USA) and Park Byung Hoon (KOR). Park Byung Hoon is undoubtedly the strongest Asian contender and has the support of the region behind him in his bid to secure his first Ironman win. Last year, Marr and Hoon put on a show with a sprint for second place that was won by the sure-striding Korean. Third place was a disappointing result for Marr who lead much of the race on the bike before being overtaken by eventual Ironman China 2008 winner Olaf Sebatchus of Germany in the early portion of the run. Hawaiian born Marr believes that his debut Ironman year stands him in good stead for a shot at the title in China. “The marathon is getting a little bit easier every Ironman that I do. I was second placed rookie in Kona in 2008, and I now know what I have to do to finish those final six miles at a strong pace, which in turn will hold off Park and anyone else trying to come from behind. I also realise that I not only have the potential for another podium, but with a great day I can take the overall win.”
The finish chute could host even more drama if Hungarian Jozef Major plays the same cards he used to win Ironman Arizona last April. The wily European took the title in Arizona by a cat's whisker after a dramatic tussle in the closing metres of the race. Other familiar faces will include Ironman Japan winner, Luke McKenzie (AUS), and Mat O'Halloran (CAN). Both have experienced Asia’s demanding race conditions: O’Halloran was first out of the water in China in 2008, and his training base is currently the Philippines. McKenzie trains in the summer heat of Australia’s Gold Coast and starts his season in Geelong this weekend.
In the women's line up, Asia's Ironman Queen, Belinda Granger (AUS), returns to defend her title at Ironman China in April. With 4 Ironman distance wins in the past 12 months, and more than a 30 minute lead over second placed Donna Phelan (CAN) in Ironman China 2008, Granger's strategy for this year's race is experience. “I know the course and can cope with the conditions. I seem to really thrive at the Asian races, and I always look forward to returning to a race and defending my crown--it gives me that little bit extra incentive to push hard.” Granger's typically strong swim and bike could set her ahead of nearest rivals, who include a returning Phelan.
If the rest of the field can keep up with Granger by the second transition, there is likely to be some pressure on the run from Mariska Kramer (NDL) and Kim Loeffler (USA). Kramer, a two time Ironman champion in France and Louisville, could prove a serious threat to the veteran Aussie if her run is on form - she is known for knocking out sub-3 hour marathons. A familiar face on the North American Ironman circuit, Loeffler took the title at Ironman 70.3 Cancun and second at Ironman Lake Placid just weeks apart in 2008. Loeffler's twin sister, acclaimed marathon runner and Ironman triathlete, Kelly Liljeblad, will also compete in China fresh from winning the Miami marathon.
Entry is open until 31 March 2009 -- register now at www.ironmanchina.com.