Photos: Hamish Collie

Kent Gray/ in Mount Maunganui

Just before the camera rolled for a richly deserved victory interview, Hannah Berry was confronted with a history pop quiz. This is your third Calley Homes Tauranga Half title, right?

For the record, Berry is now a three-time legend of the Fulton Hogan Mount Festival of Multisport’s showpiece race, Saturday’s 3:58:48 effort adding to her 2019 and 2020 titles.

Also no longer in doubt is the fact the Kiwi long distance No.1 is back to her best after a tough couple of years of injury and illness.

Berry’s résumé will record for perpetuity that she beat fast-finishing 2022 Ironman World Champion Chelsea Sodaro (3:59:43) by more than a minute to seal her Tauranga hattrick. Reigning Ironman NZ champion Els Visser (NED, 4:03:22) rounded out the podium while Aucklander Rebecca Clarke (4:07:41), who narrowly led Berry out of Pilot Bay, was 4th.

“Yeah, I had to work pretty hard for that one today,” Berry told as the camera rolled, confusing still reigning.

“Obviously, a world class field here which is really special and really had to put together my best possible day today to take the win and I managed to do pretty much as planned.”

A cunning plan whenever Clarke is in the field is to hold onto the sometimes Wanaka-based Aucklander’s feet which Berry managed to do. Clarke owned the day’s best 2km swim split – 23:43 – by just a second from Berry before the eventual winner threw down the gauntlet on the bike leg.

Berry’s 90km split of 2:08:51 was bettered by Visser but the Dutchwoman was too far adrift out of the water. Clarke did hang tough on the bike but Berry’s effort clearly hurt all and sundry. The home favourite was a good 10 seconds clear out of T2 and never looked back, her 1:24:17 half marathon split comfortably quicker than Clarke’s 1:33:05.

Sodaro, in New Zealand to spend time with coach and TQ magazine cover star Dr. Dan Plews, roared home in a thoroughly impressive 1:18:30, a time that was only bettered by five of the pro and open category men.

“I really tried to push the bike, I knew that was my best shot… I needed a gap going onto the run with Chelsea chasing,” Berry continued.

“So actually rode really hard and then, thankfully, it was just enough so I just sort of ran the race I knew I could do. The legs were hurting a bit because of the bike so I don’t think it was a particularly fast half marathon, but it was enough to take the win today.”

The near two minutes Sodaro gave up out of the water and the additional four minutes and change Berry put on the American on the bike meant Sodaro’s early season training hit out wouldn’t end victorious.

Still, the pressure was palpable for Berry. Could you sense Sodaro closing in on you?

“Yeah, absolutely, it was always going to happen,” Berry said.

“Obviously, we get to see each other at the turnarounds and I could see she was looking really good but I just tried to focus on what I was doing and not look at her too much…you can only do what you can do, especially on the run.”

Berry is still stitching together her 2024 schedule but it will include Ironman NZ in March and the Ironman 70.3 Worlds back in Taupo in December.

Europe and North America beckon in between times with Berry keen to kick on from a strong back end of 2023 which included victories at Ironman 70.3 Cozumel and Ironman 70.3 Taupo in September and December respectively, either side of a memorable 11th on debut at the full Ironman World Championships in Kona. “The second half of 2023 was actually really good for me. Put together some of the best racing I have so far in my career so that’s really nice after…prior to that was a tough 18 months, struggled with a few injuries that put me out for a while.

“Obviously it takes time to get back into form when you’ve been out with injury so it was just a matter of being patient and ticking away at the training. Finally, the second half of 2023, since then, things have looked really, really good.”

The Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Taupo are still a long way in the distance, but Berry cannot wait for a shot to better her 19th place at last August’s edition in Finland.

“It’s really special to have the world champs here in NZ for the first time ever. Taupo will do a great job of it so I’m excited for everyone to come and see New Zealand and experience a world champs here.”

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