Stacked Elite Field to Battle It Out at 2023 Ironman New Zealand
Professional Men’s Race
A defending champion, a 12-time champion, and a 2014 World Champion highlight the men’s professional field at the 2023 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand taking place this Saturday.
Kiwi Braden Currie will line up in Taupō as the top male seed and the reigning IRONMAN New Zealand champion, having held the title since 2021 when the professionals last raced over the full distance.
“I was actually wondering whether I’ve held the IRONMAN New Zealand title for the longest on record without actually competing, it’s been sitting on our wall for a long time that trophy,” said Currie. “It’s awesome, I’m relatively used to going into races with the pressure of either being reigning champ or having a bit of a target on my back, so things don’t change too much. I look forward to racing again.”
Currie, who has been living and training in Wanaka over the past few months, says he’s feeling relaxed and ready for IRONMAN New Zealand.
“I’m feeling really good going into this IRONMAN, I’ve had a good summer of training,” he said. “Training wise, it’s been going pretty well, I had a lead in race in Tauranga, I missed IRONMAN 70.3 Tasmania for family reasons, but it meant that I’ve had a really good training block into this one.”
Despite some big names on the start list, including multiple IRONMAN winner Sebastian Kienle and legendary New Zealand triathlete Cameron Brown, Currie says he’s just focusing on his own race – though he does anticipate Kienle shaking up the usual dynamics of the race.
“Things won’t change too much for me, I think I just have to race my race and hopefully if I put it all together then that’ll be a good day,” said Currie. “Sebastian definitely brings a bit of a different mix to the race, brings a lot more bike power to the race which may bring a lot of the athletes up to the front that don’t normally manage to get to the front after the swim, so that could bring a little bit of a difference to the event. It’s good, I look forward to it.
“IRONMAN New Zealand is always such a key race and sets up my year. At the same time, it’s always amazing to be able to win on home soil with the support and just enjoy that side of the racing. It would be amazing to win again,” he said.
German triathlete Sebastian Kienle is set to make his IRONMAN New Zealand debut after announcing that 2023 will be his last year competing professionally in the sport. Kienle has always focused on northern hemisphere races but is using his final year of racing to tick off a series of bucket list events before retirement.
“I’m super excited to race in Taupō that’s for sure. It’s one of the longest standing races in the world, when I started the sport of triathlon it was basically IRONMAN Hawaii, it was at that time IRONMAN Roth, and then we had a couple of others, Lanzarote and probably Canada, and New Zealand is one of the longest standing. I’ve never had the chance to race here so I am really happy that I made the choice to come over here and hopefully I’ll be fit enough to be in contention and show a good race. I’ll definitely be back probably without the race, it’s just absolutely beautiful and this is one of the best IRONMANs in the world that’s for sure,” said Kienle.
The 38-year-old has been in New Zealand for a few of weeks to acclimatise ahead of the event, also based in Wanaka, but has endured a difficult preparation after picking up an illness prior to flying over.
“Preparation has not been ideal since I’ve been a little bit sick before I left home and of course the travel and the time shift didn’t really help. But this last week has been definitely quite good, I’ve been enjoying Wanaka quite a lot, New Zealand is absolutely awesome, I think it’s a perfect country for our sport and I’m super stoked that I’m able to race IRONMAN New Zealand. It was definitely good to come here three weeks prior to the big race and I’m definitely feeling better every day.
“Obviously I have goals for the race, a podium would be nice, I’ve trained a little bit with Braden and I think it’s going to be very tough to beat him,” said Kienle.
Kienle has an incredible resumé, one that boasts multiple IRONMAN wins including the 2014 IRONMAN World Championship title and the 2012 and 2013 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship titles.
In 2022 he rolled back the years to claim sixth at the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, but Kienle admits that in recent years he’s not been able to show the true extent of what he’s still capable of – something he’d love to put right in Taupō this weekend.
“A win would mean a lot, I think a lot of people can’t even imagine how much that would mean to me because people still see me as the former IRONMAN World Champion and I’ve won all these big races but in the last two and a half years I’ve not been really able to live up to that,” he said.
“My result in Kona was really, really good and showed I’m able to still compete with the very best, so I hope I’m in contention but of course it has been difficult, I’m just always struggling with some little niggles but I’m still absolutely enjoying it. If there is a chance (to win) I will go after it with everything I’ve got that’s for sure. It would mean a lot and also it would be cool to give Braden a run for his money and make him work hard, that would be cool.”
Saturday 4 March 2023 marks the last time 12-time IRONMAN New Zealand champion Cameron Brown will race the event as a professional athlete.
The 50-year-old, who made his IRONMAN New Zealand debut in 1997, will line up for his 25th start at the event this weekend. Consecutively between 1999 and 2018, Brown achieved 20 podium finishes and won the event a record 12 times – the most wins ever at a single IRONMAN event.
“My first IRONMAN in 1997 was one of my favourites as I’d watched the race since 1988 and seeing the stars of our sport race, it was a dream of mine to one day race at IRONMAN New Zealand and also try and win it, but I really didn’t know that would happen 12 times,” said Brown.
“It’s a race that has been part of my life for so many years so it’s very special to me and my family. My family and friends have always been there to support me, usually when I race overseas it’s just me so having them watching me makes it that more special.”
Though it would be the fairy-tale ending to Brown’s time racing at IRONMAN New Zealand, the Aucklander says winning isn’t a realistic ambition anymore, especially with the likes of Currie and Kienle on the start list.
“Winning is not realistic anymore, although I can say I would love to, but being 50 years of age brings so many challenges to the day. Trying to stay injury free has been tough over the last five years. I just want to put in a solid performance and have the race go as smoothly as possible if I can. If I can do that, I know I can still produce a solid time over the day,” said Brown.
“I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of emotions the whole day, I’ll try and channel as much of it as I can into going hard but I’m sure the finish line will bring a few tears out. I’ll be racing for my dad (Dave) who passed away in September last year and was one of my greatest supporters seeing me race all over the world.”
Former IRONMAN New Zealand champion Mike Phillips (NZL) and 2021 GWM IRONMAN Western Australia champion Matt Burton (AUS) will also be ones to watch in Taupō this weekend, along with three-time IRONMAN Switzerland winner Jan Van Berkel (CHE), 2021 Age Group IRONMAN World Champion Matt Kerr (NZL) and 2022 IRONMAN 70.3 New Zealand third place finisher Simon Cochrane.
Women’s Professional Race
The women’s professional race at the 2023 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand looks set to be hotly contested this Saturday, as reigning champion Hannah Berry looks to hold off strong challengers.
The race will have a real international feel to it, with half of the women competing for the title from overseas countries – including the Netherlands, United States, Canada, and Japan.
Hannah Berry (née Wells) is the reigning Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand champion and has been focusing all her training efforts over the past few months on defending her title.
“I’m feeling really good and am really looking forward to racing. I’ve had a very smooth lead into this race, I actually think I have done every session as planned over the last couple of months without any interruption. So I am going into this one feeling as though I have done all I can over the last block to arrive on the start line in the best shape I can at the moment,” said Berry.
“It would mean so much (to win again at IRONMAN New Zealand). This is the race I have been focusing on all summer, to the point of prioritising IRONMAN training over getting good tapers in for the half’s I’ve done leading into IRONMAN New Zealand. As a result, I feel like I haven’t performed to my potential in the last couple of races I have done. To produce a good day at IRONMAN New Zealand would mean so much and would be a huge boost for the rest of the year ahead.”
The 2023 IRONMAN New Zealand will only be Berry’s third time racing over the full distance, her first being the title she won at the event in 2021, and the second IRONMAN Florida the same year, where she finished a respectable fifth amongst a strong field of seasoned international pros.
“It’s always an honour to have the opportunity to defend a title, so I am going to appreciate being in this position and use it as motivation on the day. This is going to be only my third full distance race ever, so I am still quite new to the distance actually. But I am feeling confident that I have learned a lot from my first two full distance races and am in a good position to produce my best performance yet at the full distance,” she said.
Over the past couple of years, the 32-year-old from Tauranga has been used to racing familiar faces at New Zealand events, so is excited to see some new names on the start list and hopes it will make for close and interesting race.
“I am stoked to have some new people to race here in New Zealand. I’m expecting a close race at the front of the women’s race, but other than that I will just be focusing on my race and numbers,” said Berry. “Winning is of course a goal, however I think success is more than that. If I can produce a good race and improve on my previous full distance performances, then that is a success regardless of the result. Also, I just want to feel like I’ve performed the best I can and left everything out there.”
Second seeded female and a serious threat to Berry’s title defence is Dutch athlete Els Visser. The 32-year-old heads into Saturday’s race full of confidence off the back of a second-place finish in December at the 2022 GWM IRONMAN Western Australia in Busselton, which also qualified her for the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
Visser has also claimed a number of other notable results including the 2018 IRONMAN Netherlands title and second at the 2022 IRONMAN Lanzarote.
“I was super pleased with the performance I had in Busselton, it was our first aim of course to have a good performance, second also to qualify for Kona so I was really happy to get my spot,” said Visser. “It was the first IRONMAN where I felt pretty strong at the end of the marathon and I didn’t really drop in my pace and I could even accelerate my pace in the last couple of ks, and I was just really happy to finish the seaosn with that race and it gave me a lot of confidence for this season.”
Having already qualified for the 2023 IRONMAN World Championship, Visser says some of the pressure of racing her debut IRONMAN New Zealand has been lifted.
“It definitely takes a pressure off. I can completely go in free and just give my best without any pressure and maybe I will race a bit different, but I have to discuss it with my coach, and just go out on course and have fun and enjoy being out there,” she said.
“I’m just really impressed by this country and the nature and just the friendliness of all the people, I’m really excited about the race. I think there will be so much support along the course and it’s really a sport that lives here in New Zealand. So, yeah, I just look forward to giving my best and do my best of the three disciplines and have to battle with myself, with the other girls, and the elements here of the nature, so, yeah, I’m excited.”
New Zealand is a bucket list destination for Visser for two main reasons, the first being the beauty of the natural environment, and the second because of an encounter with a Kiwi woman, Gaylene, nine years ago, an experience that was both terrifying and life changing.
In 2014, Visser and 25 other passengers were shipwrecked in Indonesia in the middle of the night. Instead of waiting to be rescued, she and Gaylene swam for eight hours to a nearby uninhabited island where they slept for the night before being rescued by a passing boat the next day – the moment Visser says her second life started.
Visser will reunite with Gaylene after IRONMAN New Zealand in her hometown of Nelson, the first time the two will meet again since that night in Indonesia.
“I don’t really know how I will react to seeing her, but I’m really looking forward to seeing her. Of course, she has like a super special place in my heart and I’m also pretty sure that it will be emotional meeting up again. But in the meantime, I’m really excited to get to know her as a person as well, because in the end, I only knew her for two days in a completely different setting where we were in such a different state of mind,” said Visser.
Five-time IRONMAN New Zealand champion Meredith Kessler is a name that has become synonymous with the event in recent years.
The American will be making her ninth start in Taupō on Saturday, a race that has brought her much success – she won the title consecutively between 2012 and 2016, finished second in 2020 and third in 2017 and 2019.
Kessler hasn’t been back to Taupō since 2020, and says she couldn’t be more excited to return to her ‘second home’.
“I am like a giddy little kid getting excited to be back to our absolute favourite haven of a place. A place where my mind is always right, and my body follows. It means a great deal to have the luxury and privilege of racing amongst such greatness, beauty and support. The amazing town of Taupō truly embraces the race and everything that it emulates – I feel beyond fortunate for the opportunity to be back,” said Kessler.
“I love this course, from the weather, to the town, the people, the country, the terrain, and everything in between. It has always felt like our second home to us so there is a level of comfortableness and familiarity associated with IRONMAN New Zealand.”
Kessler heads into Saturday’s event five-months post-partum after giving birth to her second son, Crew last year.
“I took the time needed to heal from that at the front-end post-birth and really relished in the sacred newborn time with Crew. Six weeks after I had Crew, I decided to home in on the journey back to fitness and a return to the race course, at 44 years old too no less. Let’s do this,” she said.
“We didn’t think that return would begin at IRONMAN New Zealand, so close to having just had a baby. Though, I was fortunate to return at five months post having our first son, Mak, and I will try it again with Crew. I feel like the work that I maintained while Crew was in my belly, the recovery after and the push towards getting back, all aided in allowing me to invest in coming back more quickly and I wanted to seize the opportunity while I still could – especially at my favourite race – and place – on the IRONMAN circuit.”
Whatever happens on race day, Kessler feels grateful to be back racing, and especially in Taupō – a place she holds dear.
“It is important for all the athletes that toe the line of any race to really recognize the privilege of getting to do what we get to do. We get to race IRONMAN New Zealand this weekend so that in itself is as rewarding as it gets. We are always aiming to put together a solid race, hopefully being in the form I was striving for before pregnancy.
“To have the privilege of winning IRONMAN New Zealand for a sixth time would genuinely be something that I would never take for granted. I am focused more on delivering the best race that I can muster during this time in my life and see where the chips fall. I feel like the victory already is getting to the start line of this race,” said Kessler.
Rebecca Clarke is another athlete likely to be challenging for the win throughout the race on Saturday. The Aucklander finished second at the 2021 IRONMAN New Zealand and last year she finished second at IRONMAN Australia, made her IRONMAN World Championship debut, placing 17th, and rounded out the year with third at IRONMAN 70.3 New Zealand in December.
Professional Men’s Start List
1 – Braden Currie (New Zealand)
2 – Sebastian Kienle (Germany)
3 – Mike Phillips (New Zealand)
4 – Cameron Brown (New Zealand)
5 – Matt Burton (Australia)
6 – Jan Van Berkel (Switzerland)
7 – Matt Kerr (New Zealand)
8 – Simon Cochrane (New Zealand)
9 – Jason Christie (New Zealand)
10 – Lucas Duross (New Zealand)
11 – Scott Harpham (New Zealand)
12 – Levi Hauwert (Australia)
14 – Mike Tong (New Zealand)
Professional Women’s Start List
21 – Hannah Berry (New Zealand)
22 – Rebecca Clarke (New Zealand)
23 – Els Visser (Netherlands)
24 – Meredith Kessler (United States of America)
25 – Jennifer Fletcher (Canada)
26 – Laura Armstrong (New Zealand)
27 – Ai Ueda (Japan)
28 – Laura Wood (New Zealand)
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