Ironman Tulsa is the first full M-dot race on the USA calendar, bringing a strong field to Oklahoma this weekend in the battle for the North American Championship.
It’s been over six months since a full Ironman event has taken place in the USA and there are plenty of quality athletes pumped to hit the full 140.6 in Tulsa. It’s not only a return to iron-distance racing, but the chance to claim the regional championship title, take away a cool $25k payday from the $150,000 purse and bump up their Collins Cup rankings.
With strength in depth across both the men’s and women’s races – and a tough bike course including 1500m climbing – whoever makes the podium is really going to have to fight for it.
The women’s race will be all about living legend Daniela Ryf (EUR #1) and just how big a gap this superstar can create to her nearest pursuers. The men’s race should be more open with Sam Long (USA #1) taking on strong competition from the likes of Florian Angert (EUR #8), Chris Leiferman (USA #5) and Daniel Baekkegard (EUR).
WHAT’S THE LOWDOWN?
Date: 23 May 2021
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Time: 11:30 UTC
Prize Money: Prize Money: $150,000 – pays 10 deep $25,000 to $1,500
Format: 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run
Course: Lake swim, hilly bike, flat run
Sarah Crowley (INT #4)
Tyler Butterfield (INT #4)
The men’s start list includes some 66 athletes and there are several proven performers in the bunch.
Eyes will be on Sam Long (USA #1) who rocketed to the top of the USA’s Collins Cup automatic qualification list thanks to his second-places shoulder-to-shoulder pain fest against Lionel Sanders at 70.3 St George.
Fellow American, Chris Leiferman (USA #5) was recently leapfrogged in the rankings by Long, but when the duo last raced 140.6 in Florida last November, Leiferman was the victor. He’ll surely want to get back into the auto-qualification zone.
Among the others who’ll be determined to stop the Sam ‘The Big Unit’ Long from crossing the line first will be Daniel Baekkegard (EUR) – a strong all-rounder who comes to the race angry after a penalty mix-up put him out of the running in St George.
However, it’s Florian Angert (EUR #8) who’s the highest-ranked European in the men’s race. While the German might not have the longest list of palmares he does hold the fastest ever debut Ironman – 7:45:04 in Barcelona 2019.
Always ready to direct a little smack talk at Long, Joe Skipper (EUR) has dropped down the rankings after recent DNFs in Dubai and Texas so will be searching for redemption and ranking points at the full distance this weekend.
Two-time Kona winner Patrick Lange (EUR) will also be on the hunt. The German rarely races to his potential outside Kona, but if he’s improved his form since Challenge Gran Canaria, he could run through to the top.
Tyler Butterfield (INT #4) is the highest-ranked Internationals athlete lining up this weekend and his experience could pay dividends in what could be a highly tactical race.
The Women’s Race
After her dominating performance at 70.3 St. George, Daniela Ryf (EUR #1) has put even more of a physical and psychological barrier between herself and the rest of the field. That means the second and third spots will become even more highly coveted than usual – and there are several in-form athletes who could grab them.
Being the North American Championship more than half the start list will be racing under the stars and stripes. Among them are Skye Moench (USA #1), who won 70.3 Texas and came fourth in St. George in recent weeks – races which she’s been using to prep for this full-distance battle.
Aiming to knock Moench of the top US spot will be Heather Jackson (USA #3), who gave St. George a miss to focus completely on Tulsa. A proven big-day performer, Jackson – who is also one of the athletes followed by the PTO’s Beyond Human documentary – will be wanting to solidify her Collins Cup qualification.
The evergreen Meredith Kessler (USA #6) rounds out the country’s top-ranked trio in Tulsa. However, there are a selection of other high-scoring USA athletes who are yet to race in 2021 and will overtake Kessler the moment they do. So, Kessler will need a big performance in Tulsa to catch the eyes of the Team USA captains if she wants to be selected for the Collins Cup in August.
On the Internationals side, Sarah Crowley (INT #4) leads the pack. While the Aussie’s standings are currently propped up by her stellar 2019-2020 season, the Crowley we’ve seen racing of late isn’t the full-gas version we’ve seen in the past. Perhaps the full 140.6 in Tulsa will the vast potential that’s seen her twice reach the Kona podium.
The last time there was a full Ironman on American soil – Florida in November 2020 – it was a European victor in Britain’s Katrina Matthews. She recently came fourth in a strong field at Challenge Gran Canaria but is certainly an iron-distance specialist, so she’ll be looking to check her form against Ryf and her other Hawaii-bound competition.
What the Pros Say
Proven 70.3 performer Adam Bowden (EUR) on taking the plunge in his first iron-distance race: “I’m super excited to be doing my first full Ironman. My training has gone well. I have a nutrition plan in place, which I believe is the critical part of getting an Ironman right – obviously along with pacing. There is no pressure on me I’m just excited to get out there and give it my all.”
Sarah Crowley on getting back to iron-distance racing this weekend: “I’m looking forward to an extremely competitive field in Tulsa, it lifts the standard. This will be one of the only long distance races before the Collins Cup, so I am going to push to test my limits so that I will be ready by August.”
Skye Moench on rising to the top of the sport: “I want to show that I am one to watch no matter the field or distance. It’s nice to be sitting as the top USA athlete right now, but my goal is to be one of the best in the world, not just in America. The Europeans have set the bar very high, and that’s a level I want to rise to.”