American Chelsea Sodaro shocks a stellar field to win the Ironman World Championship in Kona: Big Island Now
The best and deepest professional women’s field in Ironman World Championship history began the grueling 140.6-mile swim, run and bike race at Kailua Pier as the sun rose.
But after battling choppy waters, near 90-degree heat and 80% humidity, the triathlete was shocked to be escorted to the finish line by two Hawaiian men in traditional attire – and a mom for a toddler.
Chelsea Sodaro, 33, of Marin County, Calif., won the Ironman title on her first attempt clocking 8 hours, 33 minutes and 46 seconds.
“My mind is a little blown right now,” she said. “I think it’s the culmination of things being right in my life and having perspective. It’s amazing, but the greatest gift was at the end of the finish line, my 18 month old [Skye].”
Sodaro became the first American to win the Ironman World Championship since Tim DeBoom in 2002. She also became the first American to win the women’s race since Paul Newby-Fraser in 1996. Newby-Fraser is originally from Zimbabwe but became an American citizen.
Sodaro was in eighth place after the 2.4-mile swim and fourth after the 112-mile bike ride. But when she started the marathon, she took off at lightning speed, a 6:09 mile pace.
Just four miles from the race, Sodaro passed Switzerland’s Daniella Ryf, the reigning five-time Ironman World Champion. Ryf had taken the lead by the end of the bike with a quick run in the second half.
Sodaro passed Charles-Barclay at mile 8 to take the lead. She never looked back, building a 2:02 lead at mile 12 and a 5:02 cushion at mile 19.
The elite peloton thought that maybe Sodaro had gone out too fast in the race and would explode, but Sodaro never did. She looked comfortable throughout the race, even blowing a kiss to her husband.
Sodaro took home $125,000 for the win, the same prize the top man will win in Saturday’s race.
It was the first time that the world championship took place over two days. The best women said they liked it because they could drink cocktails when the men were in pain.
Most of the top finishers were clearly exhausted from the tough day, with Germany’s third-place finisher Anne Haug – and 2019 Ironman World Champion – collapsing to the ground. She was fine after a few minutes but conceded at a press conference: “I’m tired.”
Sodaro finished with so much energy that she looked like she still had a few miles to go. She hugged her family and said how proud she was to be the first mom to win. She was later told she was the second mum to win. The first was six-time Ironman World Champion Natascha Badman.
“It’s a real family operation,” Sodaro told the crowd. “I don’t have a super big and flashy team around me, but I have an amazing team. My dad sank all my rides last month. My mom helped with babysitting. My husband is a firefighter This is for them.
Sodaro said she met her husband while in college at the University of California, Berkeley. He was the better athlete, she said, a mile of 3:59. She started triathlons after her husband suggested she might be good as they sat on the couch watching the 2016 US Olympic track and field trials. She had been injured and placed 19th in the 10,000 meters
Sodaro was the first rookie to win in Kona since Chrissie Wellington in 2007. It was also only his second full Ironman race. Sodaro finished second at the European Championships in June.
She said she came to Kona for two weeks in September to get used to running hard in the heat and humidity.
She finished the 26.2-mile race in 2:51:45, nearly matching the course record of 2:50:26 set by Mirinda Carfrae in 2014.
Sodoro, who started the race with a swim of 54:48 and a bike of 4:42:08, beat perennial bridesmaid Lucy Charles-Barclay of Great Britain by almost 8 minutes.
It was Charles-Barclay’s fourth place in the world championship. But Charles-Barclay was not disappointed. She was excited to be in Kona after being unsure if she would be ready in time to compete.
She was the first out of the water. She lost the lead on the bike at Ryf, but regained the lead on the race. But when she was caught by Sodaro, she was happy to hang on for the second
“Never give up, when things don’t go your way, have patience, believe in yourself and you can make it happen,” she said.
Earlier this year, she suffered a major hip stress fracture that required surgery and forced her to miss the Ironman World Championship in St. George, Utah in May of this year. (This is the rescheduled Kona event that was canceled for the second year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Laura Philips, who suffered a five-minute penalty for apparently drafting, finished fourth. And Lisa Norden, who was also penalized five minutes, finished fifth.
Ryf finished in a disappointing 8th place, nearly 29 minutes behind the winner with a marathon time of 3:23:45. She was in tears after crossing the finish line.