Global stars set to race for IM New Zealand Women’s title

Chelsea Sodaro as one of the big guns (Picture: press release IM)

This Saturday, one of the strongest women’s professional fields ever assembled in Taupō will battle it out for the 2024 IM New Zealand title.

Amongst the starters are four former Ironman New Zealand winners in the shape of defending champion Els Visser, two-time champion Joceyln McCauley, 2018 champion Laura Siddall, and five-time champion Meredith Kessler.

The four athletes hold nine of the last 11 professional women’s titles at Ironman New Zealand – dating back to 2012.

Dutch triathlete Els Visser won on debut last year and will aim to emulate that success again this weekend.

“Last year I was very desperate to win that title. Coming to New Zealand was an emotional trip for me and the Ironman was part of that,” said Visser. “This year I am way more relaxed, I don’t feel any pressure, and am just excited to go out on course and to give my absolute best.”

Visser has spent the past few months training and racing across New Zealand and Australia and says she feels in the best possible shape to defend her title.

“I experienced how special this Ironman is last year. New Zealand, and especially Taupō, is breathing sports where the local community has passion for triathlon and is so involved during the event. There is a lot of history out here for IM on a very tough and challenging course. Apart from the event, I had an incredible time in New Zealand, so this year I was very keen to spend another European winter in Oceania for training and racing,” she said.

“After a little off season in December, I’ve been training very consistently over the last couple of weeks. The training has been going really well and I headed to Taupō in early January to get familiar with the course, facilities, and the environment. I’ve done two half distance races as preparation and to build fitness out of that. I’ve done everything I could to be in the best possible shape.”

Befitting of IM New Zealand’s landmark occasion – the event will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Saturday, making it the oldest IM in the world outside of Kona, Hawaii – there is incredibly strong depth to the women’s professional field this year.

With three other past champions competing, plus the 2022 IM World Champion Chelsea Sodaro and local favourites Rebecca Clarke and Amelia Watkinson, Visser knows she will have her work cut out if she wants to secure back-to-back titles.

“It’s so great to have all these strong women on the start line. We won’t be able to take the win having an average day. I am sure we will get the best out of each other to create a great race dynamic and battles out on course,” said Visser.

Kiwi Rebecca Clarke will line up on Saturday for her fourth attempt at the Ironman New Zealand crown, having stood on the podium twice already.

“I’m excited to race in a very strong women’s field with previous winners and the 2022 IM World Champion. I think it’s a really dynamic mix with strong cyclists – Els, Laura, Jocelyn – and strong runners – Chelsea and Barbara [Riveros] – that could mean a lot of lead changes and excitement on who takes the win late in the marathon. For me, knowing I’m the strongest swimmer in the field means I will be leading from the start and can settle into my race pace and be smart while tactics go on behind me,” said Clarke.

“The first part has been to get here healthy and fit, and excited to race. Secondly, I want to execute the race to have my best performance and see where that places me at the finish. I would love to secure a spot for the Ironman World Championship in Nice, so that would make a successful weekend and allow me to plan my year targeting both the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Champs.”

Alongside her race goals, Clarke says she is looking forward to being a part of the event’s 40th anniversary celebrations, with Ironman New Zealand playing a formative role in the Aucklander’s career.

“I’m excited to be racing in the 40th anniversary. I think the first time I watched this event on the sidelines it was the 30th anniversary so it’s very special to be racing at such a long running event. It was my first ever IM and first IM podium, and Taupō was also my first Ironman 70.3, so racing here means a lot,” she said.

“I love racing in Taupō, the town makes you feel special and there is so much support on course, especially as a New Zealander. The local community embraces the event so much and I feel there is extra excitement knowing the IM 70.3 World Champs are finally taking place here in December.”

While Visser and Clarke are both familiar with the event and know what it takes to make the Ironman New Zealand podium, American Chelsea Sodaro will enter uncharted territory as she takes on the iconic race for the first time.

But Sodaro has form and pedigree on her side. From taking the triathlon world by storm in 2022 by winning the IM World Championship, to earlier this month claiming victory at IM 70.3 Tasmania, Sodaro knows what it takes to big races.

“I think it will be a great start to my full distance season,” said Sodaro. “I’m really looking to enjoy this early part of the year and get some good experience with different tactics and racing dynamics, so it will be an opportunity to practice all of that and get in a really great competitive field.

“I love to compete against the best and I think that racing great athletes brings out the best in me. I go to every race with the goal to come out on top and it means more when you race really good athletes,” she said.

Whether a new champion will be crowned on Saturday – Sodaro on debut, Clarke on her fourth attempt, or Watkinson on her return to full distance racing – or one of the former champions stands on the top step of the podium once again, there’s no doubt an exciting day of racing lies ahead.

Ironman New Zealand – Women’s Professional Start List

31 – Els Visser (Netherlands)

32 – Chelsea Sodaro (United States)

33 – Rebecca Clarke (New Zealand)

34 – Jocelyn McCauley (United States)

35 – Amelia Watkinson (New Zealand)

36 – Laura Siddall (Great Britain)

37 – Meredith Kessler (United States)

38 – Barbara Riveros (Chile)

39 – Sarah Thomas (Great Britain)

40 – Ai Ueda (Japan)

41 – Kate Bevilaqua (Australia)

42 – Fiona Gallagher (Ireland)

43 – Kate Gillespie-Jones (Australia)

44 – Laura Dennis (Australia)

46 – Regan Hollioake (Australia)

47 – Laura Wood (New Zealand)