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Preview: Ironman Arizona

Last month it was the World Championships in Kona.

This weekend, the qualifying cycle begins again as a sold-out field competes in the sixth Ironman Arizona on Sunday.

The Arizona event originally was an April affair, but the Ironman corporation moved the race to November in its race calendar when temperatures in Tempe are bit more conducive to 140.6 miles. (In fact in 2008, there were two Ironman Arizona events -- one in April and one in November). Ironman Arizona is the last North American IM race on the calendar until Lake Placid in July. Only six of the 22-branded Ironman races are in North America.

As writer Liz Hichens points out in her preview for Triathlon Competitor, the professional athletes find Arizona a key race after Kona. The top 10 finishers at Kona automatically qualify for a return the following year. Finish outside the top 10 and you have to qualify at another race. Arizona gives the pros a chance to do that early, taking the pressure off other races during the course of the year.

For Sam McGlone of Canada, Sunday's race is about challenging for her first Ironman victory. McGlone placed fifth in October at Kona, securing her spot for 2010. While a world champion at the 70.3 distance, she has recently made the move to Ironman and is looking for her first win. She was third at Lake Placid this year.

Fellow Canadian Heather Wurtele is in the field with some impressive results the past two seasons. She won the 2008 Ironman Coeur d'Alene in Idaho then placed third in the race this year. She also has a third place finish at the 2008 Ironman Canada.

Others to watch in the women's division include American Linsey Corbin (who finished outside the top 10 in Kona and is looking to punch her return card for 2010), Australian Kate Major (who won Arizona in 2005) and Great Britian's Leanda Cave (last year's runner-up in Arizona).

On the men's side, most of the contenders will be racing on tired legs, competing in recent Ironman and 70.3 events.

The favorite in the field is South African Raynard Tissink who this year took third at Ironman Louisville then won Ironman Wisconsin two weeks later. Tissink finished eighth just two weeks ago at Ironman Florida. He will contend with Joszef Rapp, who won the April Arizona race in 2008 and returned to place fourth at the November race. American Jordan Rapp won his first Ironman this year, at Ironman Canada. Rapp placed third in both 2008 Arizona races.

This year, Ironman Arizona features a handful of Buffalo-area athletes. Included in the field are Patrick Dalton, Jr. (26, Cheektowaga), Tim Dieffenbach (51, Holland), Brian Foster (36, East Amherst), Anthony Garrow (54, North Tonawanda), Diane Sardes (57, North Tonawanda), Jeff Tracy (40, Lockport) and Greg Weber (47, Amherst).

You can track the progress of athletes on Sunday at the official Ironman website.

--- Amy Moritz
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