Britain’s Kat Matthews produced a superb performance to take second place on Saturday in between two greats at what was her first IRONMAN World Championship.
Only Daniela Ryf – who was claiming a fifth crown and has “always been an idol” for Matthews – finished ahead of her.
The 31-year-old British Army physiotherapist went into the race as one of the favorites and fully justified that billing.
Despite having competed in just four full-distance races in her career beforehand she went toe-to-toe with Ryf until late in the bike leg – and then held off defending champion and uber-runner Anne Haug in the marathon.
“I’ve said it before and it’s a bit cringe to keep saying it, but it’s an honor to come second to one of the world’s greatest of all time,” explained Matthews afterwards.
“So, of course, this performance, for me, is validated by being beaten [by her]. It’s not a detriment to my performance.”
Ryf herself paid tribute to Matthews, especially in terms of the bike leg, just as Haug had done earlier in the season when beaten by her in IRONMAN 70.3 Lanzarote.
Relishing being back to her best, Ryf said: “To have Kat pushing it so hard on the bike, it was really, really enjoyable. I was just thinking it’s so great to actually feel strong again and also have her.
“I don’t remember when it was – maybe 30-40k in – she passed me and she did seem like she wanted to win this race. And I loved it because it felt like we’re kind of going for it and still I felt like we’re kind of working together.”
Equally impressive in St George from Matthews was matching Haug on the run and speaking afterwards it was clear what a battle that was.
“My first kilometer on the run, I’ve never felt so horrendous, and I honestly just don’t know how I even made it up the first hill, let alone the whole run course. So I’d already accepted with the first lap that Anne was going to catch me, and that was going to be my day. And I just had to make it to the finish line.
“I think the gap was 80 seconds at one point, but it sounds like we had a similar run. Maybe mine was slightly more evenly paced, but there were a few points on it where I was like, ‘I must not walk, because then Anne will know. Anne will know. Someone will tell Anne’.”
And the display also illustrated Matthews’ ability not to let increased media attention become a negative.
She explained: “I turned the pressure into confidence. It meant it wasn’t just me saying, ‘yeah, I’m going to go win the World Ironman Championship’, as if [I’d say that]. Instead it was other people thinking I can do this. So, I was okay, I’m going to give it a go.
“I did at some point think this is a bit ridiculous, what happens if I let everyone down? Because I have done that before. But no, for this race, it didn’t bother me.”