The PTO has announced its 20 wildcard picks for the PTO 2020 Championship, the $1m race to be held at Challenge Daytona this December.
The final round of PTO wildcard picks on 22 October added Lucy Hall (GBR), Chris Leiferman (USA), Simone Mitchell (GBR) and James Cunnama (RSA) to the PTO 2020 Championship. That makes a total of 20 athletes, mixing established performers unable to net the points required, up-and-coming stars in the making and outstanding short course racers.
For more on each round of picks check the sections below and our athlete bios!
The latest athletes to be added as wildcards to the first-ever PTO Championship are the USA’s Sam Long and Danielle Dingman, Denmark’s Magnus Ditlev and Australia’s Renee Kiley. Scroll down to the Fourth Picks section for more on these up-and-coming athletes.
First Picks – 12 October
The first round of PTO wildcard selections on 12 October saw Vincent Luis, Nicola Spirig, Kristian Blummenfelt and Georgia Taylor-Brown announced for the race, which will be the Professional Triathletes Organisation’s first world championship event.
Charles Adamo, Executive Chairman of PTO, commented, “It certainly was not a difficult decision for the non-athlete members of the PTO Board to select these four world-class athletes to join the already star-studded starting line at the PTO 2020 Championship.
“With Luis and Taylor-Brown being the reigning World Triathlon Champions, Blummenfelt holding the middle-distance world record, and the pure greatness of Spirig, there is little doubt they will challenge for the title. It will be an exciting prospect for triathlon fans around the world to see these athletes doing battle against the sport’s middle- and long-distance stars.”
Second Picks – 14 October
Just two days after the first picks were announced, the PTO dropped another batch of triathlon superstars on us on 14 October with Tim Don, Flora Duffy, Gustav Iden and Jessica Learmonth being added to the mix.
“No one better than Tim Don exemplifies the resilience and integrity of our sport,” said Adamo. “His comeback from a horrific bike accident is an inspiration to us all. The first championship event run by PTO professionals would not be the same without this seasoned statesman on the start line.
“While Don brings the experience and breadth of a 20+ year career, Learmonth and Iden, with their recent stellar performances, bring the speed and power of youth, and what can’t you say about the versatile, multi-world champion Flora Duffy? There isn’t any format, distance or style of swim, bike and run she doesn’t excel at.”
“No one better than Tim Don exemplifies the resilience and integrity of our sport”Charles Adamo – PTO Executive Chairman
These stellar additions to the line-up confirmed the rumours that first-class short course athletes would be top of the selectors’ shortlist. Meanwhile, Don’s reputation of balancing hard racing with a convivial attitude is bound to add personality to the event.
Third Picks – 16 October
On 16 October, the PTO’s third group of wildcard picks was announced, adding yet more depth, class and, let’s face it, podium potential to the 2020 PTO Championship.
Not content with three Olympic champions already in the field, the PTO has courted another three Olympic podium-getters in this round of picks. With 2012 silver medallist Lisa Norden, 2012 bronze and 2016 silver medal winner Jonny Brownlee and 2016 bronze medallist Henri Schoeman all on the start list, there’s a lot of precious metal between them!
It’s not all about the Olympic racers though, Canada’s Angela Naeth is every bit the contender with an astonishing 19 Ironman 70.3 titles and three sub-nine Ironman wins to her name.
“Our third round of wildcard selections is filled with Olympic medallists and a gritty Canadian,” said Adamo. “With Britain’s Jonny Brownlee and South Africa’s Henri Schoeman joining Jonny’s brother, Alistair, and Javier Gomez on the start line, the star-studded field will have every men’s Olympic medal winner from both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
“the star-studded field will have every men’s Olympic medal winner from both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics”“
“Sweden’s Lisa Norden, silver medal winner in the 2012 London Olympics, will join previously announced wildcard selection Nicola Spirig, who denied Norden gold by 9/1000th of a second. Canadian Angela Naeth just missed out on an automatic qualifying spot, but her stellar career and her remarkable comeback after being diagnosed with Lyme disease has earned her a wildcard place.”
Fourth Picks – 20 October
Continuing the trend of drip feeding four athletes every few days, on 20 October, the PTO announced Sam Long (USA), Danielle Dingman (USA), Magnus Ditlev (DEN) and Renee Kiley (AUS) would be lining up at Challenge Daytona this December.
This round of selections is a little different from the previous picks, with the PTO selectors choosing young pros who could cause a big upset against more established competition. Not only that, but this group of athletes also represents the first triathlon generation to grow up alongside the PTO and see the organisation as the sport’s future.
The PTO is touting Sam Long and Magnus Ditlev as a rivalry in the making on a scale of Nadal and Federer – though we prefer to think of it as a possibility for a new Mark and Dave to duke it out over the next decade.
“These are difficult decisions, but we are very pleased with our choices”Charles Adamo – PTO Executive Chairman
Meanwhile, both Kiley and Dingman turned pro from the age-group ranks in the last couple of years and have been making their way up the results lists since. On the precipice of winning performances at major events in 2020, COVID-19 has robbed both of the opportunity to take the step up to the top of the podium.
The PTO’s executive chairman, Charles Adamo, gave his take on what’s perhaps the most fascinating announcement to date: “In our fourth-round wildcard selections, our focus was on Category 2 of our published criteria. This covers newer professionals who, because of the COVID impact on racing and the freezing of the PTO World Rankings, did not have the opportunity to establish a high enough ranking to be an automatic qualifier, but whose recent form showed them capable of being competitive with the automatic qualifiers.
“These are difficult decisions, but we are very pleased with our choices and in Long, Ditlev, Dingman and Kiley we believe we have identified PTO Professionals worthy of a wildcard selection.”
Fifth Picks – 22 October
The final wildcard picks included two athletes newer to long-course racing in Britain’s Lucy Hall and Simone Mitchell, both of whom have shown they could be a factor thanks to impressive race performances.
Meanwhile, two more proven performers join the PTO Championship line-up in the USA’s Chris Leiferman and South Africa’s James Cunnama – strongmen with resumes to match.
“the greatest field ever assembled for a triathlon event”Charles Adamo – PTO Executive Chairman
Speaking about the final wildcard selection round, PTO executive chairman Charles Adamo said: “Our final wildcard selections could not have been more difficult. There were many talented and qualified athletes to choose from. We very much wish we could have selected them all.
“We are satisfied that the wildcard selections represent a good balance from our criteria of top ITU talent, professionals whose ranking does not accurately represent their historical performances, and the newer, up-and-coming professionals.
“These were not easy decisions to make, but we think the result clearly delivers the greatest field ever assembled for a triathlon event.”
The Pre-qualified Contenders
In all the excitement about the wildcard picks, let’s not forget the calibre of the athletes who’ve already qualified.
The women’s top five alone includes Daniela Ryf, Lucy Charles-Barclay, Sarah Crowley, Anne Haug and Teresa Adam. Meanwhile, the men’s qualification points are led by Jan Frodeno, Alistair Brownlee, Sebastian Kienle, Lionel Sanders and Joe Skipper. A face-off in the water between Learmonth and Lucy Charles-Barclay at Challenge Daytona would be worth the price of admission alone!
All this means that we’re set for what’s almost certainly the strongest field ever assembled for a pro triathlon event when racing gets underway on 4-6 December.
PTO 2020 Championship – The Wildcard Selections
Vincent Luis – FRA: 2019 and 2020 ITU World Champion
2019 and 2020 ITU World Champion, Luis is the most dominant force in short-course racing proving himself both over ITU distances and Super League events. An all-round strongman who can swim, bike and run with the best, he’s sure to be a factor at Daytona.
“I am pleased to have been selected as a wildcard for the PTO 2020 Championship. It is great to see the PTO working to support professionals and our triathlon community and I look forward to competing against the world’s best triathletes.”
Georgia Taylor-Brown – GBR: 2020 ITU World Champion
Taylor-Brown is one of triathlon’s fastest-rising stars. The two-time European junior champ and 2017 European under-23 champion upgraded to the senior ITU World Championship title in Hamburg this year. Along the way, she’s taken seven ITU WTS podiums and is one of the sport’s fastest runners – making her a favourite for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“It is an honour to have been selected as a wildcard for the PTO 2020 Championship, particularly alongside the likes of Nicola Spirig, who is a legend in our sport. I really am looking forward to being part of this truly iconic event.”
Nicola Spirig – SUI: 2012 Olympic gold medallist and 2016 Olympic silver medallist
Triathlon’s superfrau, Spirig is a four-time Olympian with a gold and silver medal to show for it. She’s also racked up six European titles as well as multiple Ironman wins. Being 38 won’t slow Spirig down – or make her any less feared by the competition.
“I am excited about being selected as a wildcard and competing in the world-class field at the PTO 2020 Championship. Being on the starting line with the best athletes is what makes a true championship. I am thankful that the PTO and CHALLENGEDAYTONA are able to host such a great event in this very difficult year.”
Kristian Blummenfelt – NOR: Ironman 70.3 world record holder
As well as being a force in every WTS event he lines up at, Blummenfelt is holder of the fastest ever middle-distance time. The Norwegian star ripped up the course at Ironman 70.3 Bahrain in a time of 3:25:21 in 2019. Undoubtedly one of the sport’s toughest and most versatile athletes, the Norwegian only knows how to race one way: full gas.
“The PTO 2020 Championship will be one of the biggest events this year and I am pleased to have been given a wildcard place. Having raced against many of the top middle-distance pros over the last couple of years, I can appreciate that they are a tough bunch and the race will be a gruelling affair.”
Tim Don – GBR: 4x world champion and former Ironman world record holder
2006 ITU World champion, Don is also an aquathlon and duathlon world champ. While he posted an iron-distance PR of 7:40:23 at Ironman Brazil 2017, his greatest success is perhaps his recovery from a C2 vertebrae fracture in the same year. Don underwent weeks in a restrictive halo device screwed into his skull before coming back into the top level of the sport and showing he’s not done yet.
“I am grateful to have been awarded a wildcard spot. After over twenty-five years in the sport, it is great that professionals have their own organisation and now, a championship. It is an honour for me to be competing alongside my fellow professionals in the PTO 2020 Championship, and while the competition will be tough, the camaraderie will be even greater as professionals unite to make our sport better.”
Flora Duffy – BER: Multiple triathlon world champion
After a long injury layoff, Duffy’s silver at this year’s ITU World Championships – and wins since – shows she’s getting back to the top of her game. The 2016 and 2017 ITU World Champion also holds an ITU Cross title, five Xterra worlds wins and also won the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal. She’s also dipped her toe into middle-distance racing, winning Ironman 70.3 South Africa in January 2020.
“I love racing. All racing. Short course, Xterra, unique formats and earlier this year my maiden middle-distance race. The PTO Champs will bring together the best of short vs long course. And on a totally unique race venue and course profile. It has me really excited for the challenge and feels like a mash-up of the best elements of triathlon. I’m thrilled to be given an opportunity to line up.”
Gustav Iden – NOR: 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Champion
Iden made history along with Blummenfelt as part of the first-ever male single-nation podium sweep at a World Triathlon Series race at WTS Bermuda 2018. Now 24, he made headlines again by becoming the youngest ever Ironman 70.3 World Champion in 2019, beating Alistair Brownlee to the top spot.
“I’m very pleased to have received a wildcard slot for the PTO 2020 Championship. It will be awesome to race against all the other top triathletes in the world. It is great that the PTO is able to put on a championship like this.”
Jessica Learmonth – GBR: Super swimmer and multiple ITU WTS podium getter
Learmonth’s meteoric rise as short-course triathlon’s best swimmer has seen her score eight WTS podium places in three years as well as taking two silver medals in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She also took a dominating win at the inaugural Super League Arena Games.
“I am excited to race at the PTO 2020 Championship and thankful to have been awarded a wildcard spot. I have been looking at doing some longer distance racing, and what better way than jump into the fire and compete against the best in the world at an iconic venue.”
Jonny Brownlee – GBR: Double Olympic Medallist
One-half of the sport’s most dominating brothers-in-arms, Jonny Brownlee took bronze in London and Silver in Rio. The 2012 ITU World Champion also has a staggering 31 ITU WTS podiums to his name.
“I am really pleased that I have been awarded a wildcard slot for the PTO 2020 Championship and look forward to racing at Daytona. The championship field is stacked full of big names from short course and long-distance racing, so it’s going to be tough, but I am looking forward to testing myself over that distance. It’s great to see the PTO and the professionals all come together for this event and I’m delighted to be involved.”
Lisa Norden – SWE: Olympic Silver Medallist
Norden might be best known for her dramatic sprint to the line with Nicola Spirig at the London 2012 Olympics, but the Swede was also crowned ITU World Champion the same year, has earned 10 WTS podiums, won Ironman 70.3 events and is a five-time Swedish National champion on the bike.
“The PTO 2020 Championship is shaping up to be to the event of a lifetime and I am honoured to be part of this incredible field of world-class athletes. The mix of long and short course athletes is mind-blowing. It will be truly exciting to see how the race unfolds. When you see names like Spirig on the start-list you know it’s going to be fast and furious. If it comes down to a “9/1000th of a second” kind of sprint, I’ll make sure to have the margin on my side this time! Big thanks to the PTO who have been so supportive of the triathlon community in a year that has been rough for everyone.”
Henri Schoeman – RSA: Olympic Bronze Medallist
Schoeman was once most well-known as a strong swimmer, but after taking bronze in Rio, the South African went from strength to strength, leading wire-to-wire at the highest level to show he’s got the complete package. That fact was confirmed with a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“I’m excited to have been given a wildcard spot in the PTO 2020 Championship. I really look forward to testing myself against the best long course athletes, most of whom I’ve never raced before. The unique venue will create even more excitement and I’m really stoked to be part of it.”
Angela Naeth – CAN: 19x Ironman 70.3 Champion
The British Columbia-born star is certainly one to watch at the PTO 2020 Championship with a palmares list of 36 long-course podiums, including a whopping 19 70.3 titles and three sub-nine Ironman wins. As if that wasn’t enough to show her willpower and determination, Naeth has also shown her strength in remaining at top despite her fight against Lyme Disease.
“I am honoured to have been selected as a PTO 2020 Championship wildcard. It is incredible how the PTO has supported professionals and the triathlon community throughout this difficult time. The $2,500,000 the PTO paid out in March allowed many of us just to survive. Now they are putting on the biggest race of the year allowing our whole triathlon community to come together. I am so proud to be a PTO Professional.”
Sam Long – USA: Ironman and Ironman 70.3 Champion
Undoubtedly one of the biggest personalities in the sport and a self-proclaimed disrupter, a few seconds watching Long is all it takes to find out he says what he wants and does things his way. Also known as The Big Unit, Long’s scored three Ironman 70.3 wins, took first at Ironman Chattanooga and won the PTO-supported Bear Lake Brawl in September 2020.
“The PTO 2020 Championship is going to be epic, and I am thrilled to have been selected to be a part of it. It is fantastic professionals have all come together to form the PTO. This will be the greatest race EVER, and the best thing about it is that this is OUR race and the PTO is OUR organisation. I am ready to give triathlon fans the race they have all been waiting for.”
Danielle Dingman – USA: Ironman 70.3 Champion
Hailing from Missouri, Dingman only started triathlon in 2017, but the former steeplechaser has certainly got into the swing of things quickly with 14 top-ten Ironman 70.3 results including first at Eagleman in 2019 and second earlier this year at the stacked 70.3 Dubai. Like Sam Long, she also took the win at the Bear Lake Brawl Triathlon.
“I am excited about participating in the PTO 2020 Championship and thankful for being selected as a wildcard. Ever since I turned pro a few years ago, the professional community had been welcoming and supportive and that camaraderie is what is great about our sport. I was very fortunate that I had the opportunity to race some PTO supported some races and was able to display my current form. There are many qualified and talented athletes, so to be considered and selected is a huge privilege.”
Magnus Ditlev – DEN: Ironman 70.3 Champion
Winner of Ironman 70.3 Gdynia in Poland, Ditlev put in a blazing 1:57:38 bike split to put him six minutes ahead of chasers including two-time Kona champ Patrick Lange. The 23-year-old finished with a comfortable winning margin of over two minutes. That breakout performance seems to have got the attention of the PTO selection committee and it’s not hard to imagine Ditlev going head-to-head with the sport’s best bikers at the Daytona International Speedway.
“It is an honour to have been selected as a wildcard for the PTO 2020 Championship. As a young professional, to be part of an event that will have the greatest field in the history of our sport is mind blowing. I am very grateful to the PTO for all the work they have been doing to support triathlon and make the sport better for the next generation of professionals.”
Renee Kiley – AUS: Third Place Ironman Asia-Pacific Champs
A pro since mid-2017, it was Renee’s breakthrough performance at this year’s Ironman Cairns that’s put her firmly on the one-to-watch list. The Aussie came home barely two-minutes down on fellow Australian superstar Sarah Crowley and it’ll be great to see them battle it out again in Florida. Kiley’s growing list of palmares is impressive, but using triathlon to turn her life around, get healthy and lose 42kg in the process is surely a factor in the PTO picking this stellar role model.
“[I’m] Very excited to receive the news I’ve been selected as a Wildcard entry to the biggest and most exciting racing opportunity of the year. I have put in some very hard work on the training track throughout 2020 and have stayed extremely focused and motivated week after week. I can’t wait to test myself again against some of the biggest names in triathlon. I am very proud to be a PTO professional. Their support has been critical to the survival of many professionals in this very challenging year. And, it cannot be underestimated how important their involvement is for both professionals and the wider triathlon community in ensuring a healthy and prosperous future of our sport.”
Lucy Hall – GBR: Olympian and 2015 European Under-23 Champion
Despite being only 28, Hall’s got a decade of triathlon experience including the London 2012 Olympic Games. The Brit moved to Ironman 70.3 racing in 2019 taking three top-fives from three starts. Hall has also been following the PTO prize purse with fourth at the Helvellyn Triathlon, third at the Pushing Limits Triathlon in Germany and fifth at the middle-distance Outlaw X. A stellar swimmer, it could be a three-way breakaway in the water with Hall, Learmonth and Charles-Barclay.
“I am honoured to have received a wildcard selection for the PTO 2020 Championship. Like many newer professionals, the lack of racing in 2020 inhibited any ability to move up the PTO World Rankings. I kept up my training and raced whenever I could. With so many deserving athletes in similar situations, I know it is a privilege to have been selected. I am truly grateful to be a PTO Professional as the organisation has provided so much needed support to professionals and the triathlon community in these difficult times.”
Simone Mitchell – GBR: Ironman Champion
Living the aspirational age-grouper’s dream, Mitchell turned pro in 2019 after topping the age-group ranks at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship and coming second to Lucy Charles-Barclay at Ironman Lanzarote in 2018. Her first pro start at Ironman Wales last year saw the Brit take the win by more than 10 minutes, posting bike and overall course records along the way.
“It is an honour to have been selected as a wildcard for the PTO 2020 Championship. As a new professional, to be part of a championship event with the best field ever assembled will be a great experience and a challenge. It is great that the PTO has been able to do so much for our sport.”
Chris Leiferman – USA: 3x Ironman Champion
Firmly established as a fan favourite, Leiferman’s first big wins came at Ironman 70.3 Austin and Ironman Mont-Tremblant in 2016. He followed those up with a second to Lionel Sanders at 70.3 Oceanside the following year then underlined his long-course potential with wins at Ironman Louisville and Ironman Boulder in 2018 – setting a new course record at the latter. 2019 saw the American take Ironman 70.3 Boulder and crack the top-10 in Kona, more proof of his prodigious talent.
“I am excited about being awarded a wildcard slot at the PTO 2020 Championship. With the calibre of the field, it will be the event of a lifetime. As the first event that has been organized by PTO Professionals, it is a historical moment for our sport, and it is an absolute honor to be part of it.”
James Cunnama – RSA: Ironman Champion
A big-time performer, Cunnama has two Kona top fives to his name as well as wins at Challenge Roth, Alpe d’Huez, Embrunman and Ironman Nice. The South African has six Ironman 70.3 titles and 16 podiums plus three Ironman wins on his resume. With over 10 years in the sport, Cunnama knows how to keep his cool when racing heats up.
“I was delighted to hear that I have been selected as a wildcard for the PTO 2020 Championship. I have been an advocate of the PTO from the very beginning, and this event promises to showcase exactly the sort of positive impact that professional athletes can have when we all work together. I’m honoured to be invited to be a part of the event, but mostly I am excited to race against the world’s very best triathletes at Daytona!”