Reminder: Ironman New Zealand, one of the oldest races on the planet

Reminder: Ironman New Zealand, one of the oldest races on the planet

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Although the sport of triathlon has evolved considerably since its inception some four decades ago, one constant has remained: the magnetic draw of Ironman Hawaii. And it was on this lure that Ironman New Zealand capitalized in 1985, when it became the first race to offer World Championship slots. Ultimately, qualifying races became common practice around the world, but the Kiwis won it first, and their event paved the way for what would become one of the longest Ironman races ever. in the world. After being postponed due to COVID restrictions last March, the next episode of Ironman New Zealand will take place on Saturday. A look back at the history of this mythical race.

A Maori Waka (war canoe) escorts competitors as they enter the water for the start of the swim at Ironman New Zealand 2008. (Photo: Ross Land/Getty Images)

1985: Launch of “Ironman” in New Zealand

An idea originally floated by an Air New Zealand executive, the inaugural Ironman-sanctioned New Zealand launch as a way to boost tourism (and airfare sales). The plan is working: the first race, held in Auckland on March 2, attracts 340 athletes, 80% of whom are from countries other than New Zealand, with 50 of those competitors gaining automatic entry into the Ironman World Championships . The only problem? The race is not actually an Ironman. Instead, it featured a 3K swim, 160K bike, and 30K run so athletes could “save” the full distance for Hawaii (the event would transition to the Ironman distance in 1988). In the first edition, American star Scott Molina took the men’s strip, beating his closest competitor by 17 minutes. Michelle Gammie of New Zealand won the women’s race.

1986: Erin Baker takes the first of four victories

Kiwi Triathlon Queen Erin Baker made his mark on the tough Auckland course, winning his first of four Ironman New Zealand titles in dynamic fashion. The 25-year-old finished 20 minutes ahead of American sweetheart Julie Moss, celebrating her win with a beer and ice cream just minutes after crossing the finish line. Baker won again in 1987 (expanding his winning margin to 28 minutes over American Linda Buchanan), 1990 and 1994. American Scott Tinley leads the men’s race ahead of Glenn Davies.

1990: Finish line drama for closest Ironman ever

The men’s race delivers all the drama as Finland’s Pauli Kiuri and American Ken Glah engage in a supreme psychological battle for the final kilometers of the race, and it all comes down to the home stretch. After a heated sprint to the finish, Kiuri leads Glah by less than a second, which remains the closest Ironman finish ever.

iron man new zealand
James Bonney (USA) makes his way through the cycling stage along Broadlands Road in the Air New Zealand Ironman, first held in Taupo in 1999. (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

1999: Ironman New Zealand moves to Taupō

The event packs its bags and heads south to Taupō, a scenic town that sits on its namesake lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. Future two-time Ironman World Champion Tim Deboom just edged hometown favorite Cameron Brown to win by 13 seconds on a cool, overcast day. Canadian Melissa Spooner wins in the women’s category.

2001: Cameron Brown begins his epic Ironman New Zealand streak

After finishing second two years in a row, Brown, who grew up watching the Auckland race, rises to the top of the men’s field, demolishing a 12-minute lead held by ITU world champion Peter Sandvang on the bike. . The Kiwi has won the race a record 12 times, most recently in 2016 at the age of 43. Now 50, Brown is not on the 2022 start roster due to injury, but recently commented on his Instagram page that he plans to compete at Ironman New Zealand 2023 in March.

Cam Brown Ironman New Zealand
Cameron Brown crosses the finish line to win his 4th straight Ironman NZ at Ironman New Zealand 2004. (Photo: John Cowpland/Getty Images)

2003: Joanna Law asserts her dominance

Auckland native Joanna Lawn takes the tape to Taupō for the first of seven times – a feat yet to be matched by any other woman. She will chain consecutive victories until 2008, then in 2010 where she will avenge her second place in 2009 against her compatriot Gina Crawford by winning by 14 minutes. Although his victories ended in 2010, Lawn continued to race Ironman New Zealand, securing podium places in 2011 (3rd) and 2012 (3rd).

2012: Meredith Kessler takes charge

After years of dominating Kiwi triathletes, American Meredith Kessler begins the changing of the guard with her resounding victory in 2012. With the race distance shortened to 70.3 due to bad weather, Kessler posted the second fastest swimming fastest of the day and the fastest bike and run combo to beat Australian Kate Bevilaqua by almost eight minutes.

(Belgian triathlete Marino Vanhoenaker wins on the men’s side.) “Kiwi Kessler” would continue his reign at Taupō for five consecutive years, before finishing third in 2017 and 2019 and second in 2020.

Meredith Kessler of the United States runs during Ironman New Zealand 2013. (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

2020: A Kiwi reclaims the highest step at Ironman New Zealand, course records set

New Zealand cycling time trial champion Teresa Adam, Aotearoa City, is the first Kiwi to win the women’s race since 2011 (American Jocelyn McCauley and Britain’s Laura Siddal both take victories after Kessler’s reign.) Adam broke McCauley’s course record by 13 minutes in the process, finishing in 8:40:29. Briton Joe Skipper triumphs over Kiwi Mike Philips, the 2019 champion, with a new course record of 7:54:17. The event, held on March 7, is one of the last major triathlons to take place before much of the rest of the 2020 schedule is canceled due to the pandemic.

2022: Ironman New Zealand postponed, moves to December date

Although the 2021 race may have gone ahead with a limited field, mostly dominated by Kiwis (Braden Currie and Hannah Wells would claim victory), COVID rears its ugly head in 2022, when the race, scheduled for March 5, 2022, is postponed due to rising cases and strict pandemic restrictions. The event is rescheduled to December to coincide with Ironman 70.3 Taupō, and will resume its regular March date in 2023.

The December 10, 2022 event will also be notable for a different reason: the retirement of legendary Ironman announcer Mike Reilly, also known as “The Voice of Ironman.” The race will be his very last Ironman on the mic, where he will be joined by friends and family to celebrate 33 years of calling athletes to the finish line.

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