South Africa |
The familiar sight of Great Britain’s Jodie Swallow is expected to dominate proceedings in the PRO women’s race while the men’s favourite will be defending champion, South Africa’s Matt Trautman.While Trautman took the honours in 2015 he was made to work hard in a titanic battle with fellow South African, Stuart Marais. The pair had varying degrees of success during the 2015 season with Trautman finishing 4th at the Standard Bank IRONMAN African Championship – the highest by a South African – along with 1st place at IRONMAN 70.3 Incheon, South Korea, 3rd at IRONMAN 70.3 Hungary and 6th at the IRONMAN Latin American Championship in Brazil. Marais won the Standard Bank IRONMAN 70.3 Durban.
Applying pressure to last year’s one and two will be locals, James Cunnama and Kyle Buckingham along with British athlete, Will Clarke. Clarke is the most likely international candidate to usurp the South African quartet this year having finished as runner up in 2014. Cunnama and Clarke provided some fine entertainment that year as the pair were neck-and-neck going into the final few kilometres only for the South African edge victory. Both athletes missed the 2015 edition due to injury and will be looking to reignite their rivalry this year. Cunnama ended 2015 in good form winning IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam, 3rd at IRONMAN 70.3 Bahrain and 2nd at IRONMAN 70.3 Mallorca. Buckingham, by his high standards, had a below-par start to 2015 but went on to finish 2nd at IRONMAN Canada and 7th at the IRONMAN Latin American Championship.
No prizes for guessing who the women’s favourite is as Jodie Swallow returns to a happy hunting ground to go for win number six. The former world champion is one of the most feared athletes in the world known for her aggressive racing style. An impressive win at the Standard Bank IRONMAN African Championship underlined her class as an athlete capable of adapting her tactics to suit the course. She followed this with a win at the notoriously tough IRONMAN 70.3 Lanzarote.
No athlete has come to close to beating Swallow on this course but compatriot, Susie Cheetham could be the one to finally break Swallow’s grip this year. Cheetham enjoyed arguably her best year in 2015. A second-place finish at the Standard Bank IRONMAN 70.3 South Africa was followed by a third at the Standard Bank IRONMAN African Championship, a win at IRONMAN 70.3 Dublin and second place finishes at both IRONMAN 70.3 Norway and UK. She underlined her status as one to watch in 2016 with an impressive 6th and 7th at the IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships respectively.
The ever-present Lucie Zelenkova will once again be on the start line challenging for the podium places. Zelenkova was unfortunate to pull out of the 2015 race due to illness. The experienced Czech continues to display remarkable consistency claiming third at the Standard Bank IRONMAN 70.3 Durban and a top five at IRONMAN Copenhagen.
There will be a lot of local excitement around Annah Watkinson who will be making her professional debut. Watkinson has been in great form as a top age group athlete over the past few years and decided the time was right to make the step-up. She won her age group at both the Standard Bank IRONMAN 70.3 South Africa and Standard Bank IRONMAN African Championship in 2015 with the 4th and 7th fastest female time overall respectively and recorded the fastest female time overall at the Standard Bank IRONMAN 70.3 Durban. After another age category win at IRONMAN Austria, Watkinson competed at the IRONMAN World Championship finishing 3rd in the women’s 30-34 age category. South Africa has not had a female winner since 2010, with Watkinson now carrying South African hopes in the women’s field.
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