Gregory Close, 28, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Close capped his amateur career at the Ironman World Championships, where he turned in a 9:11 lifetime best performance, good enough for sixth in the men’s 25-29 age-group. The former collegiate rower—and 2008 Long Course Duathlon Age Group World Champion—also boasts a 4:16 half-Ironman PR. He’ll kickstart his rookie pro season on February 12 at Ironman 70.3 Panama, then plans to race two Ironmans (New Zealand and Brazil) to pick up points for a return trip to Kona. While eager to embrace his pro status, Close is practical about managing his expectations. “I’ll [probably] get my butt kicked. But I’m excited to compete, see where I stack up against the best of the best, and then train harder so that someday soon I can be the one doing the butt kicking,” he says.