Photo: Graeme Murray

By Kent Gray/
Mike Phillips knows history is against him. Braden Currie is letting his heart get in the way of his head. Both want a third title to gain the edge in their absorbing personal game of ANZCO Foods Ironman New Zealand one-upmanship. The rest of us can’t wait.

The Kiwi stars headline the male billing for the 40th edition of the 226km test around Taupo on March 2 while 2022 world champion Chelsea Sodaro is the star turn in an equally stellar women’s field.

Australia’s Steve McKenna, Americans Justin Metzler and Colin Szuch and Dutchman Niek Heldoorn will provide stiff competition but recent history suggests another ding-dong Phillips-Currie battle.

Phillips, who edged Currie for the title last March to go with his 2019 breakthrough in Taupo, is out to become the first man since Ironman NZ royal Cameron Brown in 2015 and 2016 to repeat.

“It has been a number of years now since someone has been able to win the title back-to-back, so doing so in front of a home crowd would be super special,” Phillips said, before adding: “I don’t feel any added pressure as the reigning champion, it is always cool to wear the number one bib.”

Currie v Phillips, Ironman NZ in Taupo on March 4, 2023

The new IRONMAN Pro Series – with a USD $1.7 million bonus pool allocated at the end of the Series – is Currie’s main target in 2024 as well as the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.

Ironman NZ isn’t part of the new series this year but the Wanaka triathlete has a soft spot for Taupo.

“I couldn’t say no to racing IRONMAN New Zealand,” said Currie.

“It’s probably stupid and I should’ve said no, it’s hard with the whole IRONMAN Pro Series and IRONMAN New Zealand not included in the point system, which means that I’m probably going to be racing four, maybe even five IRONMANs this year, which is asking a lot of me, but I just couldn’t say no at the same time.

“New Zealand is our home and our home race, and it’s always been the race that got me hooked on IRONMAN in the first place and one that I will continue to keep coming back to for as long as I race professionally.”

Currie was runner-up to Phillips at last year’s IRONMAN New Zealand, reversing the result from 2021 when Currie added a second Taupo title to his 2017 win.

“Winning the title again is one of my goals, but the main goal is to get an IRONMAN World Championship Kona slot, to be honest,” Currie said.

“It’s definitely early in the season but things have been going really well, so a Kona slot would be nice to tick off this early in the year and winning would be the cherry on top.

“Build-up has been going pretty well and it’s good to see a strong international contingency of athletes on the start line for IRONMAN New Zealand. It’s the 40th anniversary, so should be a really good race and to be honest, lots of unknowns in there. I haven’t done a lot of research yet, but a few names that I hadn’t heard of before, so that always makes it exciting.

“I think a couple of athletes in there will definitely change the dynamics a bit. I think still not a whole lot changes from my race plan, strong swim, strong ride and hope for a really good run. All going well I’ll just stick to my plan and see what they do.”

Steve McKenna. Photo: Korupt Vision

McKenna will be hoping he can ruin the locals’ party on his IRONMAN New Zealand debut.

In 2023, McKenna secured his maiden IRONMAN title in Port Macquarie followed by a second-place finish at the Cairns Airport IRONMAN Cairns – runner up to Currie – along with two IRONMAN 70.3 podium finishes. 

Also a strong contender is Taupo debutant Justin Metzler, an IRONMAN 70.3 champion and serial podium finisher – though he is yet to secure an elusive IRONMAN win.

At just 25 years old, Heldoorn is a rising star of the sport, showcasing his talent on the global stage when, as the youngest professional in the field, he finished 15th at the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship held in Nice, France. He qualified for that race by finishing second at IRONMAN Lanzarote earlier in the year.

2024 ANZCO Foods IRONMAN New Zealand – Men’s Professional Start List

1 – Mike Phillips (New Zealand)
2 – Braden Currie (New Zealand)
3 – Steve McKenna (Australia)
4 – Justin Metzler (United States)
5 – Colin Szuch (United States)
6 – Matt Kerr (New Zealand)
7 – Matt Lewis (Australia)
8 – Albert Askengren (Sweden)
9 – Michael Boult (Australia)
10 – Simon Cochrane (New Zealand)
12 – Ben Hamilton (New Zealand)
14 – Scott Harpham (New Zealand)
15 – Levi Hauwert (Australia)
16 – James Hayes (Australia)
17 – Niek Heldoorn (Netherlands)
18 – Jesper Nybo Riis (Denmark)
19 – Domenico Passuello (Italy)
20 – Mark Radziejewski (Australia)
21 – Mike Tong (New Zealand)
22 – Eneko Elosegui (Spain)

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