Faris Al-Sultan put a lot of pressure on himself coming into Ironman Malaysia, determined to bounce back after a "disappointing" 2007 to prove that he remains one of the world's best triathletes. Belinda Granger was equally determined to reverse the tables on Yvonne van Vlerken, who had made her "look ordinary" (her words, not mine!) at a race in Germany last year.
Both succeeded in the heat of Langkawi by handily beating their competition to claim the titles at the race dubbed "The Toughest Show on Earth." Al-Sultan beat the rest of the men by more than a half hour, while Granger held van Vlerken off with a spirited last 10 km of the marathon.
The Faris show begins on the bike
The day began with a fast swim by Canadian Mathieu O’Halloran, who led Al-Sultan out of the water. It didn’t take long, though, for the fast-riding German to move to the front once they left T1. Al-Sultan simply dominated both the bike and run, arriving at T2 more than 20 minutes clear of O’Halloran, Canada’s Luke Dragstra and the Czech Republic’s Petr Vabrousek. Austria’s Elmar Schuberth was ahead of those three at T2, but spent five minutes in the penalty box for a drafting violation.
If Al-Sultan hadn’t been in the race, it actually would have been close. Schuberth quickly moved into second place, while Vabrousek steadily moved through the field. The two Europeans ran together for much of the second half of the marathon before Vabrousek pulled away over the final four kilometers to claim a second to go along with the third, fourth and fifth finishes he has already claimed here in Langkawi.
Schuberth hung on for third, while O’Halloran got a fourth in his first Ironman. Dragstra finished fifth and Park Byunghoon claimed sixth.
Catch me if you can
Granger quickly passed her teammate and friend Hillary Biscay, the women’s swim leader, during the early stages of the ride, pulling away from the rest of the field in the process. Through the first two loops of the ride the Australian opened up a gap of more than 10 minutes on van Vlerken, but over the final 60 km the blond woman from the Netherlands started to gain back some of the time she’d lost.
Starting the marathon van Vlerken trailed by a little over eight minutes. Over the first half of the four-time-out-and-back course she steadily gained time. Through 21 km the lead was down to 3:20, but over the next three kilometers van Vlerken only gained another five seconds.
With 10 km to go the lead was down to 2:45, which was as close as van Vlerken would get to the win as she simply ran out of gas. Granger broke Nicole Leder’s course record by more than 12 minutes, while van Vlerken, competing in her first official Ironman race, got herself a spot in Kona later this year.
Third went to Yasuko Miyazaki, who managed to outrun Biscay, who claimed fourth. Rounding out the top-five in the women’s race was Austria’s Ute Streiter.
Austria’s Thomas Vonach made it two years in a row as the first age group man across the line, while the women’s overall age-group race turned out to be a three-second affair between Japan’s Megumi Kobayashi and Robyn McGeary. Both were in the straightaway at the same time, with Kobayashi getting to the line just ahead of the 47-year-old Aussie.
For a complete recap of the day in Langkawi including pictures, text updates, features, race results and athlete tracking, go to the race coverage section of the Ironman Malaysia page. www.ironman.com