Ironman 70.3 Panama, which serves as the Latin American Pro Championship, will take place for the second time on Sunday, Feb. 3. As one of four Ironman 70.3 races designated a “championship,” it’s worth 1,500 points in the Kona Pro Rankings to the first-place finishers. The only 70.3 race worth more is the Ironman World Championship 70.3 (worth 3,000 points). The other 70.3 races, outside of the championships, are either worth 750 or 500 points.
While this race isn’t drawing as much attention as it did last year, when it marked the now disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong racing in his first ever 70.3, it’s still drawing a strong pro field, as it’s a good chance for Kona- or Vegas-bound athletes to get some early-season points.
Highlighting the men’s start list is defending champion and two-time Olympic medalist Bevan Docherty of New Zealand, who won the race last year in a time of 3:50:13. His closest competition will come from former 70.3 world champion and multiple 70.3 winner Andy Potts. Last year’s third-place finisher, Richie Cunningham of Australia, will also be looking for the win after his most impressive season ever in 2012. Other men that could easily podium include Luxembourg’s Dirk Bockel, Australia’s Paul Ambrose and Australia’s Paul Matthews. 2012 Olympian Manny Huerta of the United States will be stepping up to the 70.3 distance in Panama after spending the off-season training in Puerto Rico.
On the women’s side, notably missing is defending champion Angela Naeth. American Kelly Williamson, last year’s runner-up, will attempt to move a step up the podium this year. Known for her running speed, she had a breakthrough in her cycling last year at Ironman 70.3 Texas, and was the runner-up at the 70.3 world championship, so she’ll be the one to beat.
Her top contenders include Canadian Heather Wurtele, a strong cyclist, and Great Britain’s Jodie Swallow, the 2010 70.3 world champion who’s been battling injury the last two seasons and is fresh off a win at Ironman 70.3 South Africa. If Swallow is healthy, she’ll be a favorite for the win. Other podium favorites include three-time Xterra world champion Melanie McQuaid of Canada, who had an impressive road win at 70.3 California last year, and multiple 70.3 podium finisher American Amy Marsh. American Margaret Shapiro, who finished third last year just 23 seconds behind Williamson, and Canadian Sara Gross also have a good shot at the podium.
Also returning to Panama this year will be last year’s seventh-place finisher American Chris Lieto, but he won’t be there to race. He’s bringing back his charity, More Than Sport, to partner with Homes of Hope and build houses for flood victims throughout the city in the days after the race. Last year, Lieto and a team of fellow athletes completed two homes for people who had lost everything in a series of devastating floods in 2010. More Than Sport plans to build more homes this February within the village of El Salto. Visit Morethansport.org for more information.