Here are the Top 10 finishers from the women’s 2023 Ironman World Championship in Kona and a few others who played an important role as the race progressed:
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You can find the full results in my Kona Results post.
The following graph shows how the race developed (click for a hi-res version):
Here’s a short summary of the race:
- Lucy Charles-Barclay took control of the race in the swim – and never surrendered her first position. Posting the fastest bike leg and a strong 2:57 marathon, she won her first Ironman World Championship after finishing in second place four times.
- Behind Lucy, Ironman rookie Taylor Knibb was in second place for most of the day before losing two spots after the Energy Lab and crossing the finish line in fourth place.
- There were a lot of small shifts behind Lucy and Taylor but no big time gaps were created on the bike. On the run, Anne Haug had the fastest marathon of the day and ran herself into second place.
- Laura Philipp overcame a small swim deficit in the first part of the bike, then also ran well to overtake Taylor in the final miles, claiming her first full-distance World Championship podium.
(All photos are kindly supplied by Marcel Hilger.)
Let’s have a closer look at each of the top finishers.
Ironman World Champion: Lucy Charles-Barclay
Leading from start to finish, Lucy won her first Kona title and also set a new course record:
Lucy erased any doubts about how aggressive she would swim and gapped the rest of the field very early. Until the turn, her lead was relatively small, but then she grew the gap on the way back, reaching T1 90 seconds ahead of Haley Chura, Lauren Brandon and a few more strong swimmers. Once on the bike, only Taylor Knibb rode at a similar pace to Lucy. Their pace in the first half was off-the-charts: Both rode the first 59.5 miles to the turn in Hawi with exactly the same split of 2:23:02 – five(!) minutes quicker than Daniela Ryf in 2018 when she set the bike course record.
Behind Taylor, everyone else fell further behind, and by T2 Lucy had a gap of almost eleven minutes to third place. Daniela had ridden the return leg in 2018 exceptionally well and the conditions were not quite as fast in 2023. Even if Lucy’s 2023 bike split of 4:32 was six minutes slower than Daniela’s 4:26, Lucy had the fastest bike split, in the second half she put another two minutes and more into the rest of the field. Even though Lucy struggled with a painful calf tear, she was running well and there was only the occasional misstep that showed she was racing on the edge. Outwardly, there was never any doubt about her win, and she posted a fourth-best 2:57 marathon, a new run PR. She also set a new Kona course record, two minutes quicker than Daniela in the calm 2018 conditions.
Second Place: Anne Haug
With her second place, Anne now has a full set of Ironman World Championship medals (after winning in 2019 and third places in 2018 and 2022):
Anne’s day started with a solid swim, about 4:30 back in a bigger group with most of the favorites. Even with a few slower swimmers catching up, that group was getting smaller in the early miles on the bike. Anne didn’t seem too happy with the on-and-off pace in the group and she let them ride away in the climb to Hawi. On balance, riding at her own pace seemed to be a good decision: She lost more time to Lucy at the front and some time to those she let go, but a lot of others fell back and Anne was riding well in the Top 10. In previous years, Anne struggled a bit in the last hour of the bike – this year she was the fastest athlete in that section, almost catching the first big chase group with Laura and others. She started the run in seventh place just over 12 minutes behind Lucy – when she won in 2019 she was over eight minutes behind.
Once again, Anne was clearly the fastest runner in the field, climbing into fourth place in the first few miles, then catching and overtaking Laura after the climb on Palani after mile 10. At that point she had already halved the gap to Taylor who was running in second place, eventually catching her in the Energy Lab. Even if Lucy seemed out of reach, Anne kept up the pace, set a new run course record and finished in second place.
Third Place: Laura Philipp
After two fourth places in 2019 and 2022, Laura Philipp improved one spot to claim her first podium result:
Laura was probably looking for a swim as in Roth earlier this year, close to Anne and her other main competitors, but she lost contact with them early in the swim and had to settle for leading the group behind them. She entered T1 seven minutes behind Lucy and almost three minutes behind the group around Anne. But she was not discouraged and started the bike riding hard. Only Els Visser was able to ride a similar pace to her, and they quickly gained ground to the Anne group: In the first 25 miles, they had closed the gap to just a few remaining seconds. Laura had overcome her swim deficit and now had a chance to recover from a hard first hour on the bike.
After Kawaihae (about mile 45), she moved forward in the group which quickly shattered in the climb up to the turn in Hawi. After Hawi, she was riding in a small group with Lisa Norden and Jocelyn McCauley – with only Lucy and Taylor in front of them. But after mile 80, their pace slowed down slightly: Lucy and Taylor started to increase their lead over them and others behind them were able to make up a bit of time to them. Laura’s small group had been able to ride away from Daniela and Anne, but Anne had been able to close the gap to them from over three minutes at mile 80 down to about 90 seconds in T2. By then, Laura was also more than ten minutes behind Lucy and six and a half behind Taylor.
On the run, she quickly asserted that she was the fastest runner in her little group, but it also quickly became obvious that Anne was running faster and should be able to catch her. Laura seemed to struggle a bit with the heat running up Palani, and soon after Anne caught and overtook her, quickly putting time between them. Coming out of the Energy Lab at about mile 21, Laura was in fourth place, two minutes behind Taylor. Her husband and coach Philipp Seipp gave her some extra encouragement for another push in the final 10k. Laura continued to run well but the gap to Taylor didn’t shrink fast enough. But after mile 24, Taylor ran a bit out of steam, and within the last 5k Laura was able to run almost five minutes into Taylor. With the third-best marathon of the day, Laura claimed third place.
Fourth Place: Taylor Knibb
Taylor didn’t disappoint at all in her first Ironman, making the race more interesting and finishing in fourth place:
As Taylor had received her Kona slot based on her win at the 2022 70.3 World Championships and had never raced a full Ironman race, there was a lot of discussion before the race about her chances, how aggressive she should race in her first Ironman race and what decisions she would make on race day. Once the gun went off, it quickly became apparent that this race would start differently to the two head-to-heads between Lucy and Taylor in 2022 when Taylor was just a few seconds behind Lucy after the swim. In Kona 2023, Taylor reached T1 in seventh place, 100 seconds behind Lucy. Taylor rode well at the start of the bike and overtook everyone who swam with her.
After 20 miles, Taylor was alone in no-man’s land – one and a half minutes behind Lucy but also about four minutes ahead of the other favorites. Taylor stayed calm and rode her own pace, not making up time to Lucy but still putting more time into the chasers. At the turn in Hawi, Lucy was two minutes ahead but the next athlete behind Taylor was Daniela who was five minutes behind.
With the camera on Taylor, you could see her lose a couple of water bottles from her behind-the-saddle cage. Before the race, Ironman had announced that they would more strongly enforce the no-litter-rule and that referees would give out one-minute penalties for unintentional littering. After about four hours in the race, Taylor dropped another bottle and she was given a penalty. She wasn’t able to serve the penalty before T2: The penalty tent at mile 28 – on the way towards Hawi on the northern side of the road – becomes the penalty tent at mile 85 – on the way back to town on the southern side of the road – by moving the tent across the road. However, that is only viable when all athletes have already passed the penalty tent on the way out – and Taylor reached mile 85 before the tent was no longer needed at mile 28. Therefore she had to continue past the tent and ride on until shortly before T2. As she was told before mile 85 that she had to continue she did not lose any time for this organizational issue and it probably didn’t impact her race.
After a short stop at the tent half a mile before T2 to finally serve her penalty, Taylor started the run two minutes behind Lucy and ran at a similar pace to her. In the Energy Lab, she needed a quick bathroom break and was about to be overtaken by Anne. Somewhere around mile 24, it seems that Taylor ran out of energy and had to slow down a bit, giving Laura a chance to catch and overtake her. Still, Taylor was about five minutes ahead of fifth place and could cruise to finish in fourth place.
Fifth Place: Daniela Ryf
Daniela tried a few things early on in the bike to push the pace but never quite got into contention for the win. Still, she ran well to finish fifth:
Daniela’s race started with a typical swim for her with most of the favorites, starting the bike about four and a half minutes behind Lucy. Her first hour on the bike was also typical: She gained a few spots in the field but there were no big changes in the race situation. But then after about 30 miles, Daniela started to move away from the other athletes she was riding with, quickly building a lead of about a minute to Anne and others.
But Daniela was still losing time to Lucy, by the turn in Hawi she was seven minutes behind and the gap to the athletes behind also started to get smaller. By mile 70, she was caught by Laura, Lisa and Jocelyn and wasn’t able to stay with them for long, quickly falling a minute behind them. But that also wasn’t a decisive change, the gap stayed about the same for the next 30 miles and then even started to shrink in the last half hour on the bike.
By T2, Daniela had almost ridden up to them, starting the run in sixth place eleven minutes behind Lucy but only 25 seconds behind the podium ranks. In the first few miles of the run, Daniela gained two spots by overtaking Lisa and Jocelyn but then also lost one spot to Anne who was clearly running faster. At the run turn on the Queen K after 6k, Daniela was in fifth place and nothing would change for Daniela in the remaining two and a half hours of the race. Daniela was running a solid marathon just over three hours – those in front of her were putting time into her while she was running faster than those behind her. Even running on her own, she was able to keep her mind engaged, probably knowing that it was her final Kona race. (She made an official announcement after the race.) She had a much better marathon than last year when she ran a 3:22 to finish eighth. This year, she ran a 3:02 to finish fifth and when Chelsea was getting closer, she was even able to pick up the pace at the end.
Sixth Place: Chelsea Sodaro
The defending champion fell out of contention after the first third of the bike and lost a lot of time, then had the second-fastest marathon to run into sixth place:
In the swim, Chelsea was only a few more seconds behind Lucy as last year (4:23 vs. 3:50 in 2022), but last year she had been able to swim slightly quicker than most of the other favorites while this year Anne, Daniela, Lisa and others were within seconds of her at the start of the bike. That was more or less the group Chelsea was riding with for the first 45 miles until the climb up to Hawi started and Chelsea lost contact to them. After the race she revealed that a hip injury made it hard for her to ride hard. When others forced the pace, Chelsea fell further and further back.
By T2, she was 21st, more than 22 minutes behind Lucy and ten minutes behind Anne. It would have been easy to call it a day, but Chelsea felt she had more to give – and what a marathon she delivered! The second-best marathon of the day saw her move back into the Top 10 by mile 15, and after 40k of the run and eight and a half hours of racing, she climbed into sixth place, showing remarkable persistence in making the best of a bad bike ride and proving once again that she is one of the best runners in women’s triathlon.
Seventh Place: Skye Moench
After losing time in the swim, Skye ran her own race and finished seventh:
Among the Top 10 contenders, Skye probably had one of the slower swims, starting the bike with Laura over seven minutes behind Lucy in 24th place – while she probably would have liked to be with Anne and others who were two and a half minutes ahead. But that almost didn’t seem to matter to her, she was riding her own pace and not losing any additional time to the chase group. For the first 50 miles, not much had changed but when things started to get hard on the climb to Hawi Skye quickly climbed the ranks.
By T2 Skye was in eighth place, still only two and a half minutes behind Lisa Norden or Jocelyn McCauley who she should be able to catch on the run. By mile 12, Skye had caught both of them and was running in sixth place. Around mile 15, she had to slow down a bit and her forward progress in the field didn’t continue. In the last miles, Skye was caught by a much faster-running Chelsea and had to settle for seventh place. Still, being the first finisher behind the six title contenders ahead of her and after a sub-standard swim is a very respectable result for Skye.
Eighth Place: Sarah True
A solid day for Sarah True saw her finish in eighth place:
Sarah was able to swim in the first big chase group with most of the top favorites, and she was also able to ride with them for the first 45 miles. Just like Chelsea, she had to drop back once the race for the podium started for real. After the turn, Sarah was able to move away from Chelsea in the first half of the bike and in the final miles caught a few athletes who had ridden too hard. She reached T2 in tenth place but the gaps to the slower runners ahead of her were quite big. In the end, a 3:02 marathon was the sixth-best of the day and enough to climb into eighth place.
Ninth Place: Lisa Norden & Tenth Place: Jocelyn McCauley
Once again, Lisa and Jocelyn used their strong bike legs to claim Kona Top 10 finishes:
After swimming in the main chase group with Anne and Daniela, Lisa and Jocelyn took their time before playing the “bike card”.
On the climb to Hawi, they teamed up with Laura and started to put time into the rest of the contenders. But they weren’t able to close the gap to the front and also started to fade a bit towards the end of the bike, allowing Daniela and Anne to get back most of the time they had lost earlier.
Out of T2, Jocelyn was slightly faster but then Lisa moved ahead, and for the whole run course they were never more than two minutes apart. Both are not known as strong runners and they were overtaken by Anne, Daniela, Skye, Sarah and Chelsea – but their 3:11 and 3:12 marathons were still good enough to claim the last two spots in the Top 10.
Eleventh to Sixteenth Place .. and a DNF
Here’s a look at a few more interesting athletes at Kona:
For the first three hours of the race, Hannah Berry was in a good position in the big chase group with most of the favorites. But when the pace picked up in the climb to Hawi, she started to fall back and by T2 had lost six minutes to Anne. Starting the run in 11th place, she ran well but wasn’t able to make up any ground and also finished in 11th.
Ruth Astle had struggled with a run injury for most of the season so it wasn’t clear what she’d be able to do after finishing the bike in ninth place. With a 3:11, she lost three spots to finish in twelfth, still well inside the money ranks.
Penny Slater‘s race went well for the first two hours before she received a penalty and instead of riding in the second chase group she fell back into 31st place. By T2 she had worked herself back into 20th, and with a solid 3:08 marathon she gained a few more spots on the run to finish thirteenth.
After a good swim in the chase group, Svenja Thoes was losing time on the bike, and she started the tun in 28th place. It took a fifth-best 3:01 marathon to climb into the money ranks.
After Els Visser lost some time in the swim, she rode with Laura back into the chase group. Then she stayed with Anne but started to fall back in the final bike miles. At the end of the marathon, she won the fight with Laura for the last money spot.
Laura Siddall had received a wild card for Kona and was able to show that she deserved it: It was only in the last few miles that she fell out of the money ranks, finishing 16th just 35 seconds behind Els.
Before the race, Kat Matthews was considered one of the top favorites. However, she fell behind the chase group on the climb to Hawi and was forced to end her race when she was weaving across the road.