Sadly the smile has been temporarily tempered for Rebecca Clarke. Photo: Graeme Murray.

By Kent Gray/ in Taupo
Rebecca Clarke’s bid for a maiden Ironman New Zealand title has been scuppered by a positive COVID-19 test.

The 35-year-old Aucklander, a podium placer in her past two attempts in Taupo, on Friday joined countrywoman Laura Wood as a late scratching for the 40th anniversary edition of the ANZCO Foods-sponsored 226km test.

Cantabrian Wood has also been struck down by COVID (more in ‘update’ below), leaving Sunshine Coast-based Amelia Watkinson as the sole remaining Kiwi hope in the pro women’s field for Saturday.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be toeing the line tomorrow at Ironman NZ,” Clarke said in an emotional social media post late Friday afternoon.

“I’ve been feeling a bit unwell since yesterday and just as a kind of a precautionary measure… [I’ve withdrawn].

“I did test positive for COVID just a couple of hours ago. Yeah, for future health and not to make damage for my body, I just think the safest and wisest call is for me to not line up which is really hard.”

Clarke was third behind Dutchwoman Els Visser and fellow Kiwi Hannah Berry 12 months ago after finishing runner-up to Berry in 2021. With Berry opting not to race Taupo ahead of a big year of racing in the inaugural Ironman Pro Series, the Kiwi presence is slim but the class of Saturday’s field not in doubt.

Former Ironman world Chelsea Sodaro headlines a stellar field which includes four past winners – defending champ Visser, two-time winner Joceyln McCauley, 2018 victor Laura Siddall, and five-time champion Meredith Kessler.

Chelsea Sodaro

The four athletes hold nine of the last 11 professional women’s titles at IRONMAN New Zealand – dating back to 2012. That only made Clarke’s WD even tougher to accept.

“I was really looking forward to this race,” she said tolding back tears.

“I was really looking forward to racing the 40th anniversary, amazing women’s field so really gutted not to be out there racing in front of you, racing with you, but health comes first.

Rebecca Clarke.

“A big year to come…I look forward to being back here in December for 70.3 worlds and thank you to the team around me, sponsors, always supporting me on this journey, bit of a down one for now, but I wish everyone to just have the best day out there and yeah, I’ll be following the tracker online.”

Currie and Phillips at Ironman NZ on March 4, 2023.

Mike Phillips and Braden Currie are set to continue their recent ding-dong battle in Taupo, both hoping for a third title to gain the edge in their absorbing personal game of ANZCO Foods Ironman New Zealand one-upmanship.

Cantabrian Phillips, 33, edged Currie last year and comes in fresh from a pair of silver medals at the Tauranga Half and Challenge Wanaka.

Currie, meanwhile, will look to bounce back from his DNF at 70.3 Tasmania.

The Wanaka 37-year-old has also taken to social media on the eve of Taupo to outline his year. Like Berry, Currie has his eye on the Ironman Pro Series with its US$1.7M Bonus prize pool.

December’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships, back in Taupo, are part of the new global series. Saturday’s full race is not but with ANZCO a personal sponsor and Taupo a favourite hunting ground, Currie couldn’t bypass tomorrow’s special edition.

Ironman NZ is the second oldest Ironman in the world outside of the VINFAST Ironman World Championships.

“A big driver for me is the Ironman World Series and that’s definitely what I’ll be focusing on. So, I see this [Taupo] as being a good stepping-stone, no matter what the outcome, into a big year of racing,” Currie said.

Post Taupo, April shapes as a busy month for Currie who has pencilled in the Athletic Brewing Ironman 70.3 Oceanside in Texas on April 6 and the Memorial Hermann Ironman North America Championship in Texas on April 27.

Thereafter he’ll defend his title at Ironman Cairns on June 16, chase that oh-so-elusive gold medal at the VINFAST Ironman World Championships in Kona on October 24 before rounding out his year at the 70.3 Worlds in Taupo on December 14-15.

Braden Currie.

He’ll squeeze a block of altitude training in around Oceanside and “slide in” some skiing to add some family-life balance into the globe-trotting.

“The main focus for me is to chase the Ironman World Tour [Series] which I’m actually really excited about. I think as a family, the key incentive is to have fun and to travel a lot and go to some cool places, do some good races, [so] looking forward to that kicking off,” Currie said.

“It’s been a really good summer. I love New Zealand summers, it’s really good training here…so yeah, it’s been really smooth and consistent so looking forward to kicking into it.”

UPDATE: Laura Wood’s planned retirement looks to have been prematurely fast-forwarded by her positive COVID test.

“Unfortunately what I was telling myself was just a cold last weekend turned out to be another round of Covid 🦠😷🤬 and I’ve made the decision to withdraw and not travel to Taupō,” Wood wrote on social media..

“Super gutted not to be racing, but I’m not well enough to attempt gentle exercise yet, let alone a full Ironman 😔🫠 As always, a big thank you to everyone that’s been part of the build up 🫶

“So, I guess I’m retired now 🥲 Byeeee triathlon racing, hello leisure athlete life 😆.”

Women’s Professional Start List
31 – Els Visser (Netherlands)z
32 – Chelsea Sodaro (United States)
34 – Jocelyn McCauley (United States)
35 – Amelia Watkinson (New Zealand)
36 – Laura Siddall (Great Britain)
37 – Meredith Kessler (United States)
38 – Barbara Riveros (Chile)
39 – Sarah Thomas (Great Britain)
40 – Ai Ueda (Japan)
41 – Kate Bevilaqua (Australia)
43 – Kate Gillespie-Jones (Australia)
44 – Laura Dennis (Australia)
46 – Regan Hollioake (Australia)

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)
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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