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American Chelsea Sodaro shocks stellar field to win Ironman World Championship in Kona

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American Chelsea Sodaro wins the Ironman World Championship on her first try, shocking the elite field. Photo Credit: Cammy Clark

The best and deepest professional women’s field in Ironman World Championship history started the grueling 140.6-mile swim, run and bike race at Kailua pier as the sun was coming up.

But after battling choppy waters, heat nearing 90 degrees and 80 percent humidity, the triathlete getting the victory escort to the finish line by two Hawaiian men in traditional garb was a shock — and a mom to a toddler.

Chelsea Sodaro, 33, of Marin County, Calif. won the Ironman title on her first try with a time of 8 hours, 33 minutes and 46 seconds.

“My mind is a little bit blown right now,” she said. “I think it’s a culmination of things being right in my life and having perspective. This is incredible, but the greatest gift was at end of the finish line, my little 18-month-old [Skye].”

  • The top three finishers of the 2022 Ironman World Championship in Kona: L-R (second-place Lucy Charles-Barclay of Great Britain, winner Chelsea Sodaro of California and third-place Anne Haug of Germany. Photo Credit: Cammy Clark
  • 2022 Ironman World Champion Chelsea Sodora with her family at the finish line in Kona. Photo Credit: Cammy Clark
  • Anne Haug collapses at the finish line after taking third place in the 2022 Ironman World Championship. She would be okay after a few minutes. Photo Credit: Cammy Clark
  • Five-time champion Daniel Ryf of Switzerland finished a disappointing 8th place after leading entering the run in the 2022 Ironman World Championship. Photo Credit: Cammy Clark

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 from Zimbabwe but became an American citizen.

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Sodaro was in eighth place after the 2.4-mile swim and in fourth place after the 112-mile bike. But when she began the marathon, she took off with blazing speed, a 6:09 mile pace.

Just four miles into the run, Sodaro passed reigning and five-time Ironman World champion Daniella Ryf of Switzerland. Ryf had taken first place at the end of the bike with a fast second-half ride.

Sodaro passed Charles-Barclay at mile 8 to take the lead. She never looked back, building a 2:02 lead by mile 12 and 5:02 cushion by mile 19.

The elite field thought maybe Sodaro had gone out too fast in the run and would blow up, but Sodaro never did. She looked comfortable throughout the run, even blowing her husband a kiss.

Sodaro won $125,000 for the victory, the same prize money the top male will earn on Saturday’s race.

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This was the first time the World Championship was held on two days. The top women finishers said they liked it because they could drink cocktails when the men are suffering.

Most of the top finishers were clearly spent from the challenging day, with third-place finisher Anne Haug of Germany — and 2019 Ironman World Champion — collapsing on the ground. She was OK after a few minutes but conceded at the press conference: “I’m tired.”

Sodaro finished with so much energy she looked like she had a few more miles in her. She hugged her family and said how proud she was to be the first mom to win. She later was told that she was the second mom to win. The first was six-time Ironman World Champion Natascha Badman.

“This is a real family operation,” Sodaro told the crowd. “I don’t have a super big, flashy team around me, but I have an incredible team. My dad has sagged all of my rides for the last month. My mom has helped with childcare. My husband is a firefighter. This is for them.”

Sodaro said she met her husband while in college at the University of California at Berkeley. He was the better athlete, she said, a 3:59 miler. She took up triathlons after her husband suggested she might be good at it while they were sitting on the couch watching the 2016 US Olympic Track and Field Trials. She had been injured and placed 19th in the 10,000 meters

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Sodaro was the first rookie at Kona to win since Chrissie Wellington in 2007. It also was only her second full Ironman race. Sodaro finished second at June’s European Championships.

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 run 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 54:48 swim and 4:42:08 bike, beat perennial bridesmaid Lucy Charles-Barclay of Great Britain by nearly 8 minutes.

It was Charles-Barclay’s fourth runner-up finish in the world championship. But Charles-Barclay wasn’t disappointed. She was ecstatic just to be in Kona after being unsure if she would be ready in time to compete.

She was first out of the water. She lost the lead on the bike to Ryf, but regained the lead on the run. But when she was caught by Sodaro, she was happy to hang on for second

“Just never give up, when things aren’t going to plan, have some patience, believe in yourself, and you can get there,” she said.

Early in the 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. (It was 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 also was penalized five minutes, was fifth.

Ryf finished a disappointing 8th, nearly 29 minutes behind the winner with a 3:23: 45 marathon. She was in tears after crossing the finish line.

Cammy Clark
Cammy Clark works for Maui Now as a news reporter. She has more than 30 years of journalism experience, previously working for the Miami Herald as the Florida Keys Bureau Chief and sports writer, the Washington Post, St. Petersburg Times, United Press International, the Orange County Register and WRC-TV/George Michael Sports Machine. She grew up in New Hampshire and studied print journalism at American University in Washington, D.C., where she was the sports editor for the college newspaper, The Eagle.
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