Images: Ironman New Zealand

By Kent Gray/ in Taupo
Steve McKenna celebrated with his now trademark ‘The Robot’ dance to break the tape in Taupo. Chelsea Sodaro didn’t wait till the finishing chute – she’d been a machine all the way from the cannon.

With Hannah Berry a non-starter and fellow Kiwis Rebecca Clarke (COVID) and Braden Currie (virus) late scratchings, the odds of friendly foreigners stealing the show the 40th anniversary edition of the ANZCO Foods Ironman New Zealand were high on Saturday.

So it proved with Sodaro and McKenna only too happy to oblige, the former breaking the woman’s course record by 23 seconds for her first full distance triumph since conquering the world in Kona in 2022, the latter adding the NZ crown to his Ironman Australia win in Port Macquarie last May. If there was a way to temper the disappointment of a near Kiwi-less set of pro podiums – more on Aucklander Ben Hamilton’s brilliant bronze soon – this was it.


2024 ANZCO Foods IRONMAN New Zealand – Results

Professional Women

  1. Chelsea Sodaro (USA) – 8:40:06
  2. Els Visser (NLD) – 8:57:33
  3. Joceyln McCauley (USA) – 8:58:22
  4. Regan Hollioake (AUS) – 8:59:18
  5. Amelia Watkinson (NZL) – 9:14:01

Professional Men

  1. Steve McKenna (AUS) – 8:01:12
  2. Niek Heldoorn (NLD) – 8:03:45
  3. Ben Hamilton (NZL) – 8:08:12
  4. Mike Phillips (NZL) – 8:10:57
  5. Colin Szuch (USA) – 8:18:39


Sodaro’s 8:40:06, even including a five-minute penalty for drafting on the bike, eclipsed the Taupo course record set by Kiwi Teresa Adam (8:40:29) in March 2020 and means she’s started the 2024 Ironman year two for two after winning Ironman 70.3 Tasmania in early February.

A training block down under with coach Dr. Dan Plews – which included silver at the Tauranga Half in January – has clearly paid dividends.

“I’m stoked, absolutely stoked, this is such an iconic race, it’s a massive year for this event and to come here and take the win means a lot,” said Sodaro who beat defending champion Els Visser (NED) by more than 17 minutes.

“Up until this season I’d only won one race since giving birth to my daughter and that was the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona. Last year was really tough for me but I wanted to get back to the love of racing and it’s much easier to love racing when you’re winning, I just wanted to pour all my training out on the racecourse and have fun doing this because it’s such a privilege to do this sport.”

Els Visser has none finished 1st and 2nd in her two Ironman NZ starts.

Sodaro started her Ironman NZ debut strongly despite the testing chop, exiting the 3.8km swim in a lead group of five including two-time champion Joceyln McCauley, pro debutant Regan Hollioake (AUS), five-time winner Meredith Kessler (USA) and Barbara Riveros (CHL).

Sodaro and McCauley made an early break on the bike, with the pair taking their turn at the front for the first 90km before Sodaro was stung for drafting. She was eventually able to claw some time, racking her bike 2mins 38s down on McCauley.

A superb sub 2:50 marathon – by a single second – ultimatelty proved irrepressible.

“The swim was super rough out there for everybody, you couldn’t really relax with the conditions, so I had to stay super focused and make sure I was with the group that I wanted to be,” Sodaro said.

“And then on the bike I was having such a good time. I worked really hard on my bike this off season and that came through today. Of course there was a little hiccup in the middle with the penalty, I don’t know where that happened or why that happened but I just rode my brains out for the rest of the ride and was pretty happy with the gap that I came into transition with, or how small the gap was to Jocelyn and then I went to work on the run.

“I have a lot of confidence in my run obviously, when I get off the bike it’s time to go to work.”

Sodaro said afterwards she felt like an adopted Kiwi and hinted New Zealand may well become a “second home”.

“I felt a lot of love on the course, from the spectators and also the athletes competing, I felt like the hometown girl here which was so cool and awesome,” she said. 

“I think I just really want to enjoy the win. I’ve learned since the win in Kona that just because you win once and on a really big stage it doesn’t mean anything for the next races and I’ll always have a target on my back in some ways, but it feels really good when you can execute your day and show your fitness.

“I have such an incredible team of people around me, what they did to get me to the start line this week even is next level, and winning is the best way to say thank you to the people who support you and it will be fun to celebrate for the next few days.”

McKenna – ‘I’m still trying to decide that it’s real

McKenna, meanwhile, was grappling to come to terms with his 8:01:12 effort.

“I’m in disbelief still, pretty emotional, I don’t know, we said I was going to win this at home but that was me just trying to be confident,” McKenna said afterwards.

“You never imagine you can win, everything just has to go so perfectly, I’m just still trying to decide that it’s real. I’m very, very, very happy,.”

Mike Phillips, the defending champion, intended making McKenna’s task even more difficult but the Cantabrian gave up nearly 2mins 40sec out of choppy Lake Taupo and ultimately paid for all the catch-up pedal power on the marathon.

Fourth place at the oldest Ironman outside of the world championships in Kona is nothing to be sniffed out by Phillips was clearly disappointed. After crossing the line, he shook Hamilton’s hand and then exited stage left as fast as he could. It was a scene that summed up how tough long-distance triathlon can be. One minute you’re the toast of Taupo, the next you can’t wait to get out of dodge, regroup and go again offshore.

Part of the lead group for the swim and much of the bike, McKenna entered T2 in second place, 2min 25sec down on Phillips. But he steadily reeled in the Kiwi, looked to have the title sown up at the race at the 21.1kmmark but then had to dig deep to hold off fast-finishing young Dutchman youngster Niek Heldoorn by just over two and a half minutes. 

“I was cramping in the swim, cramping a lot on the bike, I’ve had a lot of IRONMAN races where I’ve cramped the whole day so I just have to stay positive and when I got to about 30km left in the bike I was hurting but I knew my legs were in the best shape that they have been at that point in an Ironman so I was thinking pretty positively,” said McKenna. 

“On the first lap of the run I thought ‘wow’ I’m feeling incredible but you never, ever feel confident, I didn’t even feel confident with 4km left, I thought I might walk and come fourth still. It’s never over and I was very shocked that I didn’t blow up and that’s the fastest run that I’ve done in an Ironman [2:43:31] on a very hilly and windy course today.”

As is now tradition for McKenna when he wins a big race, the Australian crossed the finish tape doing ‘The Robot’. It was one of two promises he made pre-race.

“Now I have to shave my head, I’m going to shave my head but leave the fringe so that will be a ‘frullet’, I’ll do it tomorrow,” he said.

“Actually, when my cousin came over from New Zealand he had a frullet so that’s why I thought they were so funny so it’s a New Zealand thing I think. So I’ll do it, but I don’t think that Lauren [McKenna’s partner] will be happy, I’ll leave it until I get home so she can see it but then I’ll definitely have a shaved head and I’m really depressed about that because I have a really small head with big ears.”

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