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Chris McDonald won his first Ironman title here in Louisville in 2007, the first year of the event. He ran into the unique finish line at Fourth Street Live!, finally getting a win in his 21st Ironman start. Nina Kraft finished second that day, but would return here a couple of years later to take the women’s title. Today both set new standards: they are the first athletes to win two titles here in Louisville, and Kraft also becomes the second-oldest woman to take an Ironman title.
Kraft’s win came in her typical race-from-the-front style. She led the swim from the sound of the cannon this morning and pretty much never looked back – well, until the tail end of the run, anyway.
While Hillary Biscay managed to stay close to Kraft during the swim, once out on the rolling bike course here in Louisville the German, who now makes Clermont, Florida, her home, steadily pulled away from Biscay and the rest of the women in the field. Over the final few miles of the bike, though, Kraft’s lead shrank a bit as the women chasing started to bunch up behind her. By the time they entered T2, there were seven women within 7:30 – behind Kraft were Donna Phelan, Jackie Arendt and Marilyn McDonald, who were all within four minutes, followed by Terra Castro, Stephanie Jones and Biscay.
Once on the run, Kraft again surged away from the rest of the field. By the halfway point of the run Arendt had moved into second and was the only woman keeping pace with Kraft, while Stephanie Jones was in the process of moving into third.
As she did at the end of the bike, Kraft suffered through the closing stages of the run, but was still able to hold off Arendt, who claimed her second runner-up finish of the year. Jones would finish third, followed by Phelan and Castro, who hung on to round out the top five.
The oldest women to win an Ironman was Fernanda Keller, who was 43 years and seven months when she won Ironman Brazil in 2008. Kraft becomes the second-oldest woman to win an Ironman today – she was five months older than Paula Newby-Fraser, who won Ironman Korea in 2004 at the age of 42 years and three months.
When he won here in 2007, Chris McDonald trailed TJ Tollakson off the bike and spent almost 20 miles chasing the American, sitting a minute behind before surging ahead when Tollakson started to struggle. Today he made his mark on the race much earlier, pushing the pace through most of the bike and then dominating the run.
The day began with an impressive swim by Frenchman Romain Guillaume, who led the way in the water with last year’s men’s champion, Paul Ambrose, on his feet for virtually the entire way. McDonald had one of the best swims of his career, staying close to the leaders for the first 1,000 meters. He would come out of the water fifth overall and the third male.
Ahead of him were Guillaume and Ambrose. Guillaume led onto the bike course, but during the first few miles of the ride found himself riding on a flat tire. He waited for the support crew to come by with a spare wheel, did a quick switch, and got back into the race.
In the meantime, Ambrose took off. For much of the first half of the ride Ambrose was out in front, with Guillaume and McDonald taking turns leading the chase. The two caught the defending champ just as they hit the popular spectating spot of La Grange at the 70-mile point of the ride. The two Australians quickly started to take turns pushing the pace and eventually dropped Guillaume, who struggled into T2 well behind and would eventually pull out of the race.
McDonald led the way into transition, but Ambrose beat him to the run course by 13 seconds. The two were about six minutes ahead of Patrick Evoe and almost 10 minutes up on Daerr. Within a few miles, though, McDonald was clearly in control of the race as he was steadily opening a gap on Ambrose and holding off both Evoe and Daerr. Ambrose would pull out of the race at about the halfway point as Evoe and Daerr finally started to make some inroads on the McDonald lead.
Inroads was about as good as it got, though, as McDonald put together an impressive 2:55 marathon split, enough to ensure a three-minute win over Evoe, who took his first Ironman podium finish. Like Evoe, Daerr posted a 2:52 marathon split, which got him the final spot on the podium.
Fourth in the pro race went to the ageless Dave Harju, who is 45.
Top Five Women’s Results
1. Nina Kraft (USA) 9:38:14
2. Jackie Arendt (USA) 9:40:28
3. Stephanie Jones (USA) 9:52:40
4. Donna Phelan (CAN) 10:01:34
5. Terra Castro (USA) 10:02:40
Top Five Men’s Results
1. Chris McDonald (AUS) 8:27:36
2. Patrick Evoe (USA) 8:30:35
3. Justin Daerr (USA) 8:34:35
4. Brian Scheall (USA) 9:07:25
5. Jason McMillian (USA) 9:10:29
Adapted from Ironman.com