Pro athletes ready to take on home favourites Mike Phillips and Braden Currie at IM New Zealand

Ironman New Zealand (Picture: Press release IM)

Professional male triathletes from around the world are preparing to take on home favourites Mike Phillips and Braden Currie for the 2024 IM New Zealand title.

Eight different countries will be represented in the men’s field, with Australia’s Steve McKenna one of those athletes from overseas most likely to cause an upset on Saturday.

McKenna will be taking on Aotearoa’s iconic triathlon, celebrating its 40th anniversary, for the first time this weekend, with his debut coming a little sooner than he anticipated.

“Although I’ve heard amazing things about the event in Taupō and planned to race it one day, I didn’t expect to be racing it in 2024. However, baby number two is due early May and my ‘A’ goal for the year is being present and enjoying the first few months with family,” said McKenna.

“That left me with no IM series goals, just a Kona IM World Championship slot to get somehow. This led me to New Zealand and once I looked more into Cam Brown’s history here and the location itself I started to get excited about the training and trip over. With my family plans, IM New Zealand has become a very important race for me. I might not get to Kona if I’m not on the podium here, so I’ve prepared well,” he said.

In 2023, McKenna secured his maiden IM title in Port Macquarie followed by a second-place finish at the Cairns Airport IM Cairns – runner up to Currie – along with two IM 70.3 podium finishes.

With the Australian already experienced racing against both Currie and Phillips, he will be hoping the race on Saturday pans out in a way that plays to his strengths. As he always does, McKenna will be giving the race everything he has with the ultimate goal of finishing on the top step of the podium.

“I think with Braden and Mike racing, it could be similar to IM Cairns last year where we came together around 60-80km on the bike, then waited to see what Mike had in store for us,” he said. “However, with more depth on the bike this year, it could be wild out there. I’m confident if I stick to my plan over this distance, it will pay off on the run.

“Usually winning or at least a podium is the goal, I hate that I aim for positions and not self-improvement, but I have to be honest, I love racing for the win. However, with my circumstances and potentially not racing another IM until Kona [in October], I think I’ll count a Kona qualifier as a win here.”

Another a strong contender is Justin Metzler, an IM 70.3 champion and serial podium finisher – though he is yet to secure an elusive IM win. The American will also make his IM New Zealand debut and will be hoping he can leave his mark on the famous race.

“IM New Zealand has been a race that always comes to mind when I’m planning my seasons but for one reason or another, I never made it over here. I think coming from the American winter always scared me off a little bit in the past. But it’s a big one on my bucket list and with the training I planned to do in Arizona leading into the race, 2024 was finally the year I decided to go for it,” said Metzler.

Like McKenna, Metzler has his sights firmly set on finishing in the top three this weekend – guaranteeing him a qualification spot for the 2024 IM World Championship, taking place in Kona, Hawaii for male athletes this year.

“The IM New Zealand field looks super strong this year. Many of the athletes will be aiming for one of those three Kona slots. I have not raced many of the athletes on the start list, so it will be interesting to see them in action on Saturday. I’m well aware of each athletes’ strengths and weaknesses so I’ll be keeping an eye out for those on race day. I’ll aim to mix it up at the front of the race for as long as I can. That being said, IM is a very long day, and you have to be well aware of your own limitations, so I’ll be trying to find that balance during the race to have my best performance regardless of what others may be doing,” he said.

“Success looks like strong execution of my own individual race plan, feeling strong from start to finish and most importantly, enjoying the event. Often times as professional athletes we get distracted by the Kona slots, sponsors and prize money, but the most important thing for me is to enjoy the process and embrace the hard moments as those are the ones that define who we are as athletes and people.”

Since 2014, only once has the men’s IM New Zealand title been claimed by an international athlete – Great Britain’s Joe Skipper in 2020, setting a new course best time along the way.

Mike Phillips has won two of those titles in that time – 2023 and 2019. The Christchurch triathlete is aiming to become the first athlete since 2016 to defend their IM New Zealand title.

“I don’t feel any added pressure as the reigning champion, it is always cool to wear the number one bib,” said Phillips. “It has been a number of years now since someone has been able to win the title back-to-back, so doing so in front of a home crowd would be super special.”

Phillips says he is excited to face some unfamiliar athletes this year.

“It’s always great to have some new faces on the start line in Taupō. I am not familiar with some of them, but I am sure they add to the race and make it that much more exciting,” he said. “With the international athletes bringing different strengths and weaknesses to the race I think the dynamic will be a lot more unpredictable. This will hopefully result in an exciting race and make for great spectating.”

Braden Currie also has two IM New Zealand titles to his name, his most recent win coming in 2021 and prior to that in 2017.

“Winning the title again is one of my goals, but the main goal is to get an IM World Championship Kona slot, to be honest. It’s definitely early in the season but things have been going really well, so a Kona slot would be nice to tick off this early in the year and winning would be the cherry on top,” he said.

“I think a couple of athletes in there will definitely change the dynamics a bit. I think still not a whole lot changes from my race plan, strong swim, strong ride and hope for a really good run. All going well I’ll just stick to my plan and see what they do,” said Currie.

The 2024 IM New Zealand men’s professional start list features 20 athletes from eight countries. Going up against the experience of Currie, Phillips, McKenna and Metzler are a group of talented youngsters including Dutchman Niek Heldoorn, American Colin Szuch, and New Zealand’s Ben Hamilton.

2024 ANZCO Foods IRONMAN New Zealand – Men’s Professional Start List

1 – Mike Phillips (New Zealand)

2 – Braden Currie (New Zealand)

3 – Steve McKenna (Australia)

4 – Justin Metzler (United States)

5 – Colin Szuch (United States)

6 – Matt Kerr (New Zealand)

7 – Matt Lewis (Australia)

8 – Albert Askengren (Sweden)

9 – Michael Boult (Australia)

10 – Simon Cochrane (New Zealand)

12 – Ben Hamilton (New Zealand)

14 – Scott Harpham (New Zealand)

15 – Levi Hauwert (Australia)

16 – James Hayes (Australia)

17 – Niek Heldoorn (Netherlands)

18 – Jesper Nybo Riis (Denmark)

19 – Domenico Passuello (Italy)

20 – Mark Radziejewski (Australia)

21 – Mike Tong (New Zealand)

22 – Eneko Elosegui (Spain)