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Women in IRONMAN: A Timeline

Through the sport's history, women have shown themselves to be a powerful force in IRONMAN.

AUG 30, 2022

Since the beginning, women have played important roles in the development, growth and culture of the sport of IRONMAN. Unprecedented among similar sports of its time, IRONMAN placed women on equal ground with the same distances, rules and conditions as their male counterparts from the very beginning.

Many of IRONMAN’s most iconic moments have been delivered by female athletes, including Julie Moss’s famous crawl in 1982, a feat that inspired the sport's mantra: “Anything is Possible”.  Women of IRONMAN have driven innovation through professional and age group athlete performance, coaching, work within the industry, and the investment they continue to give to mentoring other women.

As we head into the next phase and kick off a dedicated women’s day of racing at the 2023 Vinfast IRONMAN World Championship,*  we are excited to celebrate the amazing impact women have had on this sport and the path they have blazed for the generations to come.

Below is a timeline of women in the sport to demonstrate the impact and involvement of women in IRONMAN. 

1977-78 : John and Judy Collins conceived the original “Hawaiian IRONMAN Triathlon” during an awards banquet for the Waikiki Swim club, combining the three toughest endurance races on the island into one race. This led o the race series and lifestyle that IRONMAN is today.   

1979: In only the second year of the sport, championship cyclist Lyn Lemaire enters the event to become the first to compete and ultimately the first female champion of the event, placing fifth overall out of the 15 starters. She would go on to be inducted into the IRONMAN Hall of Fame in 2003. 

1980: The event draws 106 men and two women with Robin Beck winning the women’s division in 11:21:24, placing 12th overall. 

1981: Valerie Silk takes over race directing, and makes the decision to move the event from the tranquil shores of Waikiki to the barren lava fields of Kona on Hawaii Island. She increases the participation from 326 in 1981 to over 1,400 competitors  

1982: Julie Moss, a California college student studying endurance sports, makes her heroic struggle to the finish line and inspires generations of triathletes as her performance is aired on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. As her body shuts down, she is passed by Kathleen McCartney for the women’s title, Moss crawls across the finish line showcasing her courage and determination. The IRONMAN mantra "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE®” is born. 

1983: The first international female win in Kona, Sylviane Puntous of Canada, sets the women’s course record at 10:43:36.

1986: The IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii offers prize money for the first time and in its debut is distributed equally to professional men and women. In doing so, it becomes one of the first sports to offer equal prize money for professional competitors. (The money was equal despite the fact that there were 23 pro women and 86 pro men who finished the race that year). 

Paula Newby Fraser competes in Kona. (Photo: Lois Schwartz)

1986: Paula Newby-Fraser of Zimbabwe sets a new women's course record of 9:49:14 and wins her first of 8 titles (86, 88, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 96) 

1989: The International Triathlon Union creates equal pay for men and women triathletes, thanks to a big effort from New Zealand athlete, Erin Baker. 

1990: World Triathlon Corporation was created to create a pro field for both men and women.

1992: Paula Newby-Fraser becomes the first woman to eclipse the nine-hour mark with a historic 8:55:28 performance.

1994: Julie Moss becomes the second-ever and first female inductee to the IRONMAN Hall of Fame. 

1997: A year after being inducted into the IRONMAN Hall of Fame, Paula Newby-Fraser continues her illustrious career to become the first person to win 20 IRONMAN competitions.

1999: Valerie Silk is inducted into the IRONMAN Hall of Fame. Lyn Brooks, 51, from Baltimore, Md., becomes the first person to ever finish 20 consecutive IRONMAN World Championship races.

2000: Seventy-year-old Ethel Autorino, from Edison, N.J., opens the women’s 70-74 age group category becoming the oldest female to ever compete at the IRONMAN World Championship. 

2005: Sarah Reinertsen, from Portola Hill, Calif., becomes the first female above-the-knee amputee to finish after missing the bike cutoff in 2004 and becomes a pioneer in the sport of paratriathlon. 

2006: The inaugural IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship is held bringing more athletes into the sport with Canadian Samantha McGlone taking the first title for the women in a time of 4:12:58  

2007: Chrissie Wellington becomes first ever British athlete to win the IRONMAN World Championship. 

2009: In winning her third IRONMAN World Championship in a time of 8:54:02, Chrissie Wellington breaks Paula Newby-Fraser’s IRONMAN World Championship best time that had been in place for 17 years. 

2011: A new professional points-based ranking system is implemented with total male and female slots determined by proportional allocation providing 50 slots to top pro men and 35 slots to top pro women. 

Minda Dentler at the IRONMAN World Championship.

2012: Britain’s Leanda Cave becomes the first female and only second athlete ever to capture both the IRONMAN 70.3 and IRONMAN World Championship crown in the same year.  

2012: At the age of 82, the "Iron Nun," Sister Madonna Buder finishes IRONMAN Canada setting a new mark for the oldest female finisher in history.

2013: After having success at the half-distance IRONMAN 70.3 series, Mirinda Carfrae uses a blisteringly fast run to win the IRONMAN World Championship, setting a new course best time of 8:52:14.

2013: Minda Dentler crosses the IRONMAN World Championship finish line in a time of 14:39:14 to become the first female hand cyclist ever to complete the event.

2013: Harriet Anderson. who began competing in long-distance triathlons in her 50s, finishes the IRONMAN World Championship at the youthful age of 78 in a time of 16:56:51 becoming the oldest women to ever finish the championship event. 

2015: Daniela Ryf becomes the second women ever to win both the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship and IRONMAN World Championship in the same year.  

2015: Lori Bowden and Heather Fuhr are inducted into the IRONMAN Hall of Fame; Fuhr is considered one of the best runners of all time in the sport of triathlon, capturing 15 IRONMAN wins around the world including the IRONMAN World Championship title in 1997. 

2016: Daniela Ryf sets a new course best time of 8:46:46 as she wins the IRONMAN World Championship for the second year in a row 

2016: Shirin Gerami breaks barriers to become the first Iranian women to compete in and finish an IRONMAN triathlon.

2017: The IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship taking place in Chattanooga, TN, USA is held over two days for the first time ever with all women racing on one day and the majority of men on the other. This creates further racing opportunities for women and equitable slots for men and women professionals. 

2017Chrissie Wellington is inducted into the IRONMAN Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility. Wellington finished her career with four IRONMAN World Championship titles and an IRONMAN finish time record of 8:33:56 (recorded in 2011 at IRONMAN South Africa).

Chrissie Wellington.

2018: Daniela Ryf continues to showcase why she has become the best female triathlete of her era with her fourth consecutive IRONMAN World Championship title, shattering her previous course best time with a 8:26:18 finish. 

2019: IRONMAN moves away from KPR (Kona Pro Ranking) and implements a new professional qualifying system to give female pros more opportunities to qualify for the IRONMAN World Championship. The first year of the new format results in 44 female professionals and 56 male professionals qualifying for the IRONMAN World Championship. 

2019: Brazilian Fernanda Keller finishes her 24th IRONMAN World Championship, the most of any female competitor in history. In her peak as a professional, she earned third place finishes at the IRONMAN World Championship six times (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000). 

2019: Liza & Beth James become the first ever mother-daughter team to take on the IRONMAN World Championship.

2022: Daniela Ryf makes history with her fifth IRONMAN World Championship, joining Paula Newby-Fraser and Natascha Badmann,  the only women to claim the feat. With her fifth IRONMAN World Championship title added to her five IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship titles she also holds the record for most IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship titles for any professional triathlete.

2022: Laura Philipp sets fastest time for a full-distance IRONMAN in 8:18:20.

2022: Joanne Murphy, known as the Irish Voice of IRONMAN, becomes the first female to race announce at the IRONMAN World Championship (the 2021 edition which was held in St. George, Utah in May of 2022). At the 2022 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Carissa Galloway will join Murphy in the role.

2022: Equal professional slot allocation for men and women debut with new two-day race format. All women and select male age groups compete on Thursday, October 6, while the majority of men compete on Saturday, Oct. 8.

2022:  Both the 2022 IRONMAN World Championship and the 2022 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship had the largest female athlete fields in history.

2022:  Chelsea Sodaro became the first American woman to win the IRONMAN World Championship since 1996 and the first female or male American to win the IRONMAN World Championship since 2002. Sodaro also became the first rookie to win the IRONMAN World Championship in 15 years. Sodaro topped the podium just 18 months after giving birth to her daughter.

2022:  Lauren Parker (AUS) became just the 3rd female handcyclist to finish the IRONMAN World Championship. In the process, she set a new world best time for the female handcycle division clocking in at 12:20:35, breaking the previous best set in 2018 by over 2 hours.  

2022 :  At 78 years old, Cherie Gruenfeld became the oldest female athlete to finish the IRONMAN World Championship, passing Harriet Anderson who was 77 and 11 months when she completed the race in 2013. Gruenfeld was 78 years old and 3 months completing this year's race in 16:20:07. 

2022:  At age 24, Taylor Knibb became the youngest professional female to race the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship and became the youngest female ever to win the event. She is also became the first American woman to win the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship since 2008 when Joanna Zeiger won the crown and just the second American female ever. 

2022:  At 27 years old, Zeinab Rezaie became the first Afghan women to race and finish the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. Rezaie was the final finisher of the race, crossing the finish line with just over a minute to spare before the final cut off.  

2022:  IRONMAN announces the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship will have dual host cities to provide women and men their own dedicated day of racing. The women will have a first-ever exclusively women’s race in Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i on October 14, 2023.