Returning champ Manami Iijima of Guam might encounter strong opposition in her bid for back-to-back titles in the 29th Tagaman Triathlon that will take place tomorrow and feature a notable pro field.
Iijima is one of the seven women entered in the pro/elite division and will challenge the much longer 70.3-mile course—spread into a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run. In the men’s field, there are five competitors. The half Ironman distance race will start with the swim from the waters off Kanoa Resort to Kilili Beach and transition to the bike leg from Kilili Beach to Banzai Cliff and back. The run leg is from Kilili to American Memorial Park and back to the finish line at Minatchom Atdao Pavilion.
South Korean Dan Bi Hong, Japan’s Maki Nishiuchi, and four others stand in the way of Iijima’s attempt for a repeat in the Western Pacific region’s longest-running multisport race. Both triathletes have International Triathlon Union world rankings.
Iijima was the second overall in last year’s race (shorter distance), finishing behind fellow returning winner Aleksandr Dorovskikh of Russia (2:12:01.8). The Guam triathlete timed in at 2:12:52 in the 51.50 course or more than eight minutes faster that the Philippines’ Maria Hodges (2:21:04).
In the longer race this Saturday, Iijima will be facing the 29-year-old Hong, who is currently ranked 321st in the world tied with Madalena Almeida of Portugal, Ipek Oztosun of Turkey and Zulanny Rivero of Venezuela. The Korean finished a strong fifth (2:12:22) in the elite women’s division in the 51.50 2017 Asian Triathlon Confederation Triathlon Asian Cup in Sokcho in South Korea. Hong also came in seventh overall in the 16th Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010 in China and was runner-up to compatriot and eventual elite women’s champion A Reum Jo in the 2013 Korea Triathlon National Championships.
Nishiuchi, on the other hand, is currently at No. 114 in the women’s ITU long distance triathlon ranking and came in 14th (6:53:49) in the elite women’s division in the 2015 Motala ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in Sweden. The Japanese also finished seventh in the 2007 Hong Kong ITU Triathlon Asian Cup (2:19:14), 53rd in the 2007 Tiszaujvaros BG Triathlon World Cup (2:09:16) in Hungary, and 10th in the 2008 Gold Coast ITU Triathlon Oceania Cup (2:04:50) in Australia.
The former Guam national swimmer Iijima, however, is no pushover as she won numerous races—short distance, marathon, and multisport—and also placed ninth in her age group in last year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She finished sixth in her first race as a pro in last year’s Ironman 70.3 in Phuket Island, Thailand, and first in her age group and sixth overall in the 2017 Ironman 70.3 Subic Bay in Olongapo, Philippines.
Jo, who is a returning competitor together with compatriot Jiho Hwang, finished sixth in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games in South Korea. She also raced in the ITU World Cup event held in 2014 in Jiayuguan City in northwestern China.
Hwang, meanwhile, had back-to-back first place finishes in the Yeoju City Greatman Triathlon and the Jeju International Triathlon both held in 2016 in South Korea. She also came in at fourth in the women’s pro/elite in the 2016 Gurye Ironman 70.3 in South Korea.
Two-time Hongsung National O2 Triathlon (2016, 2017) and 2017 Gunsan Saemankum Triathlon champ Na Rae Jung and Jin Hyung Kim, a 22-year-old Asian Cup veteran, are the other South Korean female competitors.
Meanwhile, in the men’s divison, Kaon Cho is also returning in the hopes of finally winning the Tagaman and dislodging 2017 titlist Dorvskikh. Both have been familiar fixtures in various races on Saipan, including the Hell of the Marianas and the now defunct XTERRA triathlon.
Gyu Seo Choi—another returning South Korean bet—Hong Kong’s Leong Tim Law, and Yu Shinozaki of Japan are also expected to contend for the men’s crown.
Law, a Singapore Youth Olympian, has a long list of achievements in various triathlon races in Asia and even came in third in the Under 23 division of the 2016 Couzmel ITU Aquathlon World Championships in Mexico. Shinozaki is an eight-time Nijima Triathlon champion with his last win coming in last year and he also ruled the 2016 Goto Nagasaki National Triathlon and the 2016 Tonunoshima Triathlon. The Japanese had fifth (2014) and fourth (2015) overall finishes in Ironman Japan.