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photo: Nils Nilsen/IRONMAN

U.S. Elite Preview: 2013 GoPro Ironman World Championship

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October has arrived once again and triathletes around the world hold their breaths and lay their eyes on the Big Island to see who will be crowned the 2013 Ironman World Champion. U.S. elites show promise in both the men’s and women’s fields, although throughout the past year many athletes have stepped into the spotlight making steadfast predictions on the winners impossible.

There are 10 U.S. males in the pro field of 53. They range from top cyclist Andrew Starykowicz to the notorious first-out-of-the-water Andy Potts. It has been 10 years since Tim DeBoom took the Kona crown for the Americans and there is a strong field looking to reclaim the throne after this Kona drought.

The U.S. women haven’t seen a Kona crown in 17 years, but this year’s field is the strongest it has ever been. Of the 36 female pros lining up on Saturday morning, 1/3 of (12) of them are American. Beyond just strong numbers, contenders like Mary Beth Ellis and Kona veteran Linsey Corbin are serious contenders for the podium.

There are another 2,000-plus athletes from 48 states and almost as many countries competing in Kona against the best in their age group on the grandest stage in the Ironman circuit. Nearly 75 percent of the athletes are male and the field averages 42 years old, but they will all line up next to the pros after a year of hard training and racing to reach the pinnacle of Ironman.

Here, we take a look at our U.S. elites and how they might stack up on Saturday. 

Men

Timothy O’Donnell (Boulder, Colo.)
O’Donnell took first at the mid-season Ironman Brazil and had a top-10 finish at Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Vegas. He is a past 70.3 U.S. Pro Champion and has always been talked about leading up to Kona and looks to improve on his eighth-place finish on the Big Island last year. 

Andy Potts (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Potts is no stranger to all aspects of triathlon racing, being a top contender in everything from Olympic-distance to Ironman. Known for his speed in the water, Potts proved his strength in the other legs with his first-place finish at Ironman Lake Placid earlier this year. His fourth-place finish at 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas puts him in top contention for the crown in Kona.

Brandon Marsh (Austin, Texas)
Mash is a newcomer as a pro to the Big Island this year but has showed promise since making his recent debut. He made a wave taking second at Ironman Mont-Tremblant earlier this year and hopes to ride that all the way to Kona. 

Matthew Russell (Ogdensburg, N.Y.)
Russell is known for the high volume of racing he does throughout the year and that’s not just at the long distances. He sprinkles in Sprint and Olympic-distance events to pair with his second-place finish at Ironman Canada and top-10 finish at the brutally cold inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe. His strong run complements a well-rounded race fitness as he returns to the World Championships this year.

Jordan Rapp (Thousand Oaks, Calif.)
Rapp is an endurance machine, having won the Leadman Epic 250 in two consecutive years. This year, he honed in on Ironman-specific racing after taking fourth place in the early season Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne. His lighter race schedule with strong showing as several 70.3 races throughout the year make him a U.S. favorite going into Kona. 

Ben Hoffman (Boulder, Colo.)
Hoffman secured his Kona slot with a first-place finish at Ironman Coeur D’Alene. His strength on the bike brought him to another first place finish at Rev3 Branson in late September. He will look to ride this late season success into this weekend to redeem the DNF that ailed him on the Big Island two years ago. 

TJ Tollakson (Des Moines, Iowa)
Tollakson took third at Ironman Couer D’Alene earlier this year with a well-rounded race. Specializing in the 70.3 distance, he will aim to bring that well-rounded race to Kona this weekend to deepen the field of American men chasing the podium.

Thomas Gerlach (Tucson, Ariz.)
This pro is another who races nearly every weekend no matter the distance. Performing at the top tier in everything from local sprints to international Ironman, he most notably took third at Ironman Louisville. It will be his first trip to the Big Island as a pro but his experience at the distance works well in his favor. 

Ian Mikelson (Torrance, Calif.)
Mikelson has experience with success on the Big Island after being the first-place American amateur in 2009, springing into his professional career. This year he pulled two third-place finishes at Ironman Texas and Ironman Lake Placid. His training schedule will ensure fresh legs for the World Championships this weekend. 

Andrew Starykowicz (Wauconda, Ill.)
Starykowicz is to be feared on the bike. He holds the Ironman bike-split world record, set at Ironman Florida late last year, and despite being a freshman in Kona, you can guarantee that he will look to open up the field on over the 112-mile bike leg. His top finishes at multiple 70.3 races throughout this year secure his place as a top contender this weekend.

Women

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Photo: Jeff Kapic
Mary Beth Ellis (Boulder, Colo.)
Ellis has never lost an Ironman outside of Kona but she has yet to seal the win on the Big Island. A bike crash in her big training block leading up to Kona threaten her ability to race at 100 percent but her fifth-place finish last year puts her in the back of everyone’s mind for a top spot this year. 

Meredith Kessler (San Francisco, Calif.)
Kessler has struggled at the Ironman World Championships in years past but her impressive results elsewhere make her a favorite going into this weekend. After winning Ironman New Zealand early in the year, she continued her first-place finishes at multiple 70.3 races. Kessler is another who is plagued by some bike accidents, but her decision to pull out of the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas gives her a good shot of staying race-ready for Kona. 

Linsey Corbin (Missoula, Mont.)
Corbin is perhaps the most experienced with Kona between the rest of her field, having raced there since 2006. She has pulled a couple of top-10 finishes and after validating her 2013 spot with a win at Ironman Arizona late last year she kept her schedule light. Corbin will hope that her sparse race schedule will leave her fresh for Kona this weekend. 

Amanda Stevens (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Stevens is known for being the first out of the water at Kona in recent years. She racked up wins at Ironman Brazil and the 70.3 in Brazil this year on top of several podium finishes. Expect to see her be one of the first entering T1 before she looks to improve upon her 18th-place finish in both of the previous years.

Jennie Hansen (Rochester, N.Y.)
This will be Hansen’s first trip to the Big Island and she will look to hold on to the beginning of the race in order to capitalize on her strong run. Her first-place finish at Ironman Lake Placid was one of three top-10 Ironman finishes this year. Her deep schedule at the Ironman distance hopes to prove beneficial to the Kona newcomer.

Caitlin Snow (Brockton, Mass.)
Another Kona veteran, Snow often finds herself in the top-10 on the Big Island. An early season bike crash ailed most of her year but she pulled second at Ironman Couer D’Alene to validate her spot this weekend. She will look to her quick run to improve her rank at the World Championships. 

Jessie Donavan (Cornwall, Vt.)
Donavan sets herself apart with strength on the bike and despite being a second-year pro, she has experience with Ironman wins. She took first at Ironman South Africa this year and followed that up with a third-place finish at Ironman Brazil. It will be her first time as a pro at Kona and she will have to fight a deep field to contend for a podium spot.

Elizabeth Lyles (Reno, Nev.)
Lyles is experienced in the world of triathlon having raced for over 10 years. She came to Kona twice as an age-grouper but this will be her pro debut on the Big Island after winning her first professional Ironman in Wisconsin. By winning Boise 70.3 and taking top-ten spots in various long course races throughout the year, she will look to her experience paying off at the race this weekend. 

Amy Marsh (Austin, Texas)
Having been a collegiate swimmer, Marsh is often seen out of the water in the lead group. Her strong swim-bike took her to 10th place in last year’s Ironman World Championships and this year she racked up several top-ten finishes at Ironman and 70.3. 

Ashley Clifford (Carmel, Ind.)
Clifford will be making her debut as a pro at Kona. She took third in the late-season Ironman Florida last year to secure her spot this weekend. Her racing schedule hopes to ensure fresh legs at Kona to supplement her first time battling the Big Island. 

Kim Schwabenbauer (Knox, Pa.)
Schwabenbauer will also be making her professional Kona debut after her second season of racing as a pro. She took third at Ironman Texas and followed that up with a fourth-place finish at 70.3 Muncie. She has been to Kona twice before as an age-grouper and that experience may benefit her on Saturday morning. 

Haley Chura (Atlanta, Ga.)
A former collegiate swimmer, Chura often posts the fastest swim times of the field. After earning her pro status at the end of 2012, Chura has racked up several top-ten finishes, including fifth place at Ironman Brazil. Chura has raced Kona twice as an age-grouper and her experience on the Big Island puts her in a good place for this weekend.

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