Ironman reigning champ has double challenge ahead

READY TO RACE: Annah Watkinson, left, Daniela Ryf, centre, and Kaisa Lehtonen Picture: EUGENE COETZEE
READY TO RACE: Annah Watkinson, left, Daniela Ryf, centre, and Kaisa Lehtonen

The battle lines have been drawn for the 13th edition of the Ironman African Championship which takes place this morning at Hobie Beach in Summerstrand.

The women’s professional field promises to be exciting, as defending champ Kaisa Lehtonen is not only looking to regain her title but also to outshine World Championship winner Daniele Ryf.

The Finland professional athlete said she was extremely fit and ready for the race tomorrow.

Lehtonen, who turned pro in 2013, said she was excited to be back in Port Elizabeth. “I have always loved to race here on the African continent,” she said.

“There is some kind of magic here – it’s nice to be back.

“This year’s field is even tougher than last year. There’s the Ironman World Championship winner Daniele racing.

“She is the one who has been setting the bar in the women’s Ironman race for the last few years. It’s an honour to race alongside her. “I think I am fitter than ever before. “I have been training really hard so it will be very exciting to see if I can challenge her.”

Lehtonen said winning the race for the second time would be the biggest achievement in her professional career.

However, Lehtonen said challenging the Ironman world champ or even beating her would be a huge success for her.

Meanwhile Ryf, who last year came first in Ironman Zürich, Ironman 70.3 Rapperswil and Ironman 70.3 Dubai, said her aim was just to finish the race.

The 29-year-old said this year’s women’s pro field was looking good and her competitors where looking strong.

“In Ironman its always important to focus on yourself. I’ve been training well, so now I just hope my body will hold everything together. That’s what it is all about – you have to make the best out of the day and focus on your body.

“You can’t really change what the others do, but you can really focus on what you can do. That is what I am trying to do and then see what happens.”

As the world champ and having won so many Ironman races in her career, many people will put their money on Ryf to win tomorrow’s race.

Asked if she was under pressure, she replied; “There is no pressure going into the race. It’s always a compliment if people think that you are going to win.

“My goal is always to be fast and I try to give my best. I have had some problems with my body so to be honest I’ll be happy if I can finish.”

South African athlete Annah Watkinson, who came third at the 2016 Ironman Barcelona, says she wants to fly the country’s flag high and finish on the podium this year.

The 35-year-old took eighth position last year, which she regards as disappointing. “I would like to finish in the top three obviously, but if not the top three I would like to be at least competitive in racing against the girls.

“If I could win the race it would be indescribable because winning this race is a dream of mine that I hope comes true.”

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