Girl Power Lights Up 2023 IRONMAN World Championships

IRONMAN history was made in Kona, Hawaii, this year, in more ways than one...
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👉For the first time in the event’s 45-year run, the women of IRONMAN (or should we say IRONWOMAN?) took complete charge of the big island.
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🏊‍♀️🚵‍♀️🏃‍♀️The inaugural women’s-only IRONMAN World Championships welcomed over 2,200 of the fiercest female athletes in endurance sports—no boys allowed.
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😲As if that weren’t enough, first place finisher Lucy Charles-Barclay shattered the course record with a time of 8:24:31. 

  • She broke the tape nearly two minutes ahead of the previous record set by five-time champion Daniela Ryf in 2018. 
  • Ryf, a member of the HOKA athlete team, took fifth place this time around. 

But that's still not all...

Charles-Barclay also became the first of any IRONMAN champion, including the men, to smash each separate leg of the race outright.

Every other winner in IRONMAN lore has leapfrogged back and forth with other contenders for at least some portion of the race. 
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Charles-Barclay, however, took the lead from the very beginning and held it through her final steps. 

An estimated 2,200 athletes competed in the women's only 2023 IROMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, beginning with a 2.4-mile swim.

Charles-Barclay surges in the swim & never looks back

That’s where Charles-Barclay truly rocked the boat. 
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🏊‍♀️For someone who got her start as a distance swimmer, her initial lead in the swim came as no surprise. 

  • But she’s not one to maintain such a strong lead across the other two disciplines as well. 
  • En route to her four previous second place finishes, Charles-Barclay has always lost some of her edge once she climbed out of the water. 

Not this time, though.

  • Her 4:32:29 split time on the bike made her the fastest cyclist of the whole lot. 
  • She stayed strong through the run as well despite runner-up Anne Haug working hard to close the gap. 
  • With two minutes to spare, Charles-Barclay topped off her silver collection with a hard-fought hint of gold. 
After the swim transition, IRONMAN athletes ride 112 miles.

Riders challenge Charles-Barclay for the lead over 112-miles

That’s not to say that her fellow triathletes didn’t put up a serious fight. 

  • Charles-Barclay’s closest two challengers in the swim, Haley Chura and Lauren Brandon, stayed on her tail for the first few miles of the bike portion. 
  • Taylor Knibb sped into second place at the ten mile mark. 
  • Daniela Ryf seized third soon after, and the three held position through the halfway point. 
  • Laura Philipp and Jocelyn McCauley then worked their way onto the leaderboard to battle for bronze. 

The standings remained relatively stable from there as the women neared the end of their 112 cycling journey. .
While they laced up their shoes to run, though, the race’s new mantra courtesy of title sponsor HOKA must have taken root. 
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All expectations flew out the window as the women began to “Fly Human Fly” down the course and change up the order entirely. 

Taylor Knibb finished fourth overall in her first full-IRONMAN Triathlon.

Knibb chases Charles-Barclay into the 26.2-mile marathon

Knibb, just 25 years old and fresh off of an Olympic qualifier, seemed poised to follow Charles-Barclay through to the finish. 

  • But she was headed into unfamiliar territory. 
  • Knibb had never completed a full IRONMAN before this race, nor a full marathon on its own. 
  • It takes practice to master such long distances. All of Knibb’s triathlon experience has taken place on shorter courses. 

While there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that she has plenty of endurance potential, her debut still left her fading in the final third of the run.
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🏃‍♀️Anne Haug, the 2019 World Champion who’d spent the run slowly creeping up through the ranks, took over second place at mile 18. Knibb rallied for third until Philipp snuck in with barely a mile to go. 
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🏆Charles-Barclay, Haug, and Philipp lined the podium with Knibb in fourth and Ryf closing out the top five. 

Lucy Charles-Barclay won the 2023 IRONMAN World Championships, and set a new course record with a time of 8:24:31. She also led the entire race in first place.

Girl power lights up Ironman World Championships

Maybe these new records and unexpected upsets have happened regardless of the gender dynamic.
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But bystanders here in Kona are inclined to believe that girl power has a lot to do with it.

  • There’s a different energy in the air than in years past, veteran attendees say. 
  • Women’s stories and accomplishments automatically owned the spotlight instead of having to fight for it. 
  • Spectators had the chance to get to know the competitors and their backgrounds better than ever before. That kind of context makes it easier to connect with the racers on a personal level, not just look up to them. 

Anyone who’s ever taken part in any race knows that a good crowd makes all the difference. 
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The IRONMAN community has always shown up strong for its competitors; this year’s new format just took that positive energy and channeled it entirely into the women’s field. 

HOKA-sponsored athlete Els Visser says this year's female-focused race allows for the “determination and will of the women here” to shine through more brightly.

Women's only IRONMAN highlights female athletes

Competitors and organizers felt the change too. HOKA athlete Els Visser, who finished in 15th, noticed how much easier it was to...

  • “Get the exposure we deserve and not get mixed up with the men...” 
  • ...despite grieving the enjoyment she’s gotten out of sharing the experience with her male counterparts in the past. 

But the purity of a female-focused race allows for the “determination and will of the women here” to shine through more brightly.
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That exposure could very well trigger an uptick in female triathletes. 

The 2023 IROMAN World Championships marks the first year for a female-only race.

'The spotlight is on them'

VP of global marketing at HOKA, Erika Gabrielli, backs up that observation:.
“We are thrilled to see our female athletes getting the attention they deserve,” she said.
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“The spotlight is on them, which provides a real opportunity to show women across the world the joy, community and personal achievement that comes from participating in an IRONMAN World Championship."
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"As a brand, this has always been one of our goals. We’re excited to welcome more women into what has historically been a male-dominated sport.” 

A lesson from the 2023 IRONMAN World Championships: Attitude is powerful.

A lesson from the 2023 IRONMAN World Championships...

If the 2023 IRONMAN World Championships can teach runners of either gender anything, it’s that:

Attitude. Is. Powerful.

  • These incredible athletes took Kona by storm out of sheer will. 
  • They fed off of the girl power emanating from competitors and spectators alike. 
  • That energy (combined with an undeniable amount of hard work, of course) led them to cement themselves in IRONMAN history from here on out. 

Everyone in IRONMAN embraced the change, and that resulted in the best year yet for female competitors.
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Adopt an attitude that celebrates change to see your own dreams play out too. 

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Lucie Hanes
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Ultrarunner, rock climber, occasional artist, fond of good wordplay. Small human on big adventures with big goals and big fee...

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