By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi in Taupō
That cliché about sports pros making winning look easy? Not so much on Saturday as Els Visser summoned all her shipwreck survivor instincts to write a chapter in Ironman New Zealand lore.
The 32-year-old Dutchwoman made nailing her second Ironman title look excruciatingly difficult, projectile vomiting on entry to the red carpet and again after taking an impromptu seat just behind the tape she barely managed to walk and smile her way through.
History will remember Visser as the 2023 champion in 9:05:44, just shy of three minutes clear of defending champion Hannah Berry with fellow Kiwi Rebecca Clarke rounding out the podium. What the time can never truly illustrate is just how hard Visser pushed herself to back up her 2018 Ironman Netherlands triumph.
Visser pushed such epic numbers on the bike after exiting lake Taupo in sixth place that she whizzed by Berry and Clarke on one of the final climbs back into Taupo, roughly 10km from T2. And all that did was make the 42.2km marathon an extra tough slog.
“I was actually pretty confident with my running, I was happy with my fitness but it was so tough today,” Visser said, taking up the story after requiring medical treatment immediately after finishing.
“I didn’t expect that, I had to go so deep and I’m so happy that I finished, that last lap was terrible but I was quite happy with lead I had.
“I had five or four minutes from lap number two so I thought ok, just hang in there and keep running and just make it to the finish line, kilometre for kilometre and every step for step, and yes I’m just so happy that I’ve finished and of course super stoked for the win.”
While the marathon was especially tough towards the end, Visser savoured having the big Taupo crowds cheering her home, parochialism parked given the effort she was clearly putting in to hold off Berry.
Visser even heard references to the most terrifying night of her life when she was shipwrecked off Indonesia along with 26 others. Instead of waiting to be rescued, she and a Kiwi woman named Gaylene swam for eight hours to a nearby uninhabited island where they slept for the night before being rescued by a passing boat the next day.
“That was really amazing, on the run there were so many spectators and everyone was cheering ‘you go girl’ and ‘hang in there’ and they were all cheering for me and I even heard someone said about Gaylene, I swam with her and I visit her tomorrow, and they said ‘Gaylene says go’ and I thought ok now I can’t really let her down, I can’t give up I really have to stay in there and make it to the finish line.
“I just really tried to stay mentally there and focus on my own race until the finish line.
“This means a lot to me, my last win was in 2018 so it’s been five years. This is my second win, I’ve had a lot of injuries and a lot of setbacks and now I’m so happy to be back.”
Nutri-Grain Ironman New Zealand 2023 – Professional Women
1.Els Visser – 9:05:44
2. Hannah Berry – 9:08:33
3. Rebecca Clarke – 9:10:11
4. Meredith Kessler – 9:30:51
5. Ai Ueda – 9:42:51
6. Laura Armstrong – 10:11:00
7. Laura Wood – 10:22:30