When Kat Matthews (née Rye) lined up for the Ironman World Championship in St George, she did so as an athlete tipped for great things.
Yet, the British athlete only turned pro in 2019 and took up triathlon just seven years ago. So what led Kat Matthews to this moment? We take a look…
Who is Kat Matthews?
Despite having a sporty background (including lots of hockey, basketball, tennis, cross-country running and swimming with the local club “just for fun”), Kat Matthews only took up triathlon in 2015.
At the time Matthews was working as a physiotherapist officer in the British Army at Headley Court, helping injured servicemen and women with their rehabilitation. While there, she made use of the swimming pool and, due to a few injuries, turned her hand to cycling.
She gave triathlon a go and the rest, as they say, was history. The Army spotted her talent and nurtured it. A lot of age-group racing followed, first over short distances. But then Matthews “fell into” middle-distance racing after entering Ironman 70.3 Calgary on a whim with friends while working in Canada, which she won.
Wins followed at the English Middle Distance Championship in 2018 and the age-group race at Challenge Gran Canaria in 2019. Motivated by the chance to test herself against the very best, at this point Matthews turned pro.
A series of podiums followed in 70.3 races, before a full-distance debut at Ironman Western Australia, where she finished fourth. Matthews was clearly demonstrating her promise and was rewarded by an invite to join the BMC Pro Triathlon Team, who she still races for now.
Like all of us, racing in 2020 was hit by the pandemic, but Matthews still managed a win at Outlaw XIronman 70.3 Tallinn and at her second full-distance race, Ironman Florida.
By this point, Matthews’ trajectory was very much shooting skyward, and 2021 saw her finish first at Ironman UK, win her heat at the inaugural Collins Cup and finish fourth at the Ironman 70.3 World Champs.
And that brings us to 2022, when that rise in form and reputation continued to skyrocket. A win (and sizeable gap over second-placed Daniela Ryf) at Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote caused many to sit up and take note, if they weren’t already.
Of course, that was followed up with arguably Matthews’ biggest performance so far, coming in second at the 2021 Ironman World Championship in St George behind now five-time champion Ryf and ahead of former champion Anne Haug.
Technically, Matthews is still with the Army as a physiotherapist officer, but the reality is that her “job role is now to be the best I can be at triathlon”. Her affiliation with the Army continues, but luckily for us spectators, her sole focus is on multisport.
How old is Kat Matthews?
Kat Matthews was born on 13 March 1991, making her 31 years old.
Kat Matthews career highlights
July 2018: A happy debut at middle-distance
While on an exercise in Canada with the Army for four months, Matthews decides to try out a middle-distance race with some friends. It ends up going very well, and she walks away with a win at all-age-group Ironman 70.3 Calgary.
November 2020: Wins full-distance debut in Florida
The Brit shows a sign of things to come as she outclasses the rest of the field – including USA’s Skye Moench and fellow Brit Ruth Astle – to claim her maiden full-distance win on her debut at that distance. Along the way she sets the third-fastest bike split, a new course record and cranks out a sub-three-hour marathon.
June 2021: Takes victory on home soil
In a second season blighted by the pandemic, Matthews takes the win at Ironman UK, claiming the fastest splits in each discipline and finishing 22mins ahead of the closest challenger, fellow Brit Nikki Bartlett.
August 2021: Shows class at Collins Cup
After years of talk, the inaugural Collins Cup finally arrived. Matthews forms part of Team Europe and wins her match against Jocelyn McCauley (USA) and Carrie Lester (AUS). A winning margin of 5:42 ensures she claims 5.5 points out of an available six, helping Team Europe on their way to victory.
September 2021: Takes part in a British assault in St George
After a last-minute decision to race the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St George (following the postponement of Kona), Matthews is one of five British women to make the top 10achieving fourth despite a niggling run injury.
Britain’s Lucy Charles-Barclay takes the win, with Jeanni Metzler (ZAF) and Taylor Knibb (USA) after the podium, but there are some notable names behind Matthews, including Daniela Metzler (SUI), Emma Palllant-Browne (GBR), Skye Moench and Jackie Hering (USA).
March 2022: An accomplished display in Lanzarote
Matthews executes a fantastic race at Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote, recording the fastest bike split of the day (2:27:55) on her way to the top of the podium. In doing so, she bests then four-time Ironman word champion Ryf, prompting many to tip her for a top performance in St George two months later.
May 2022: Secures an incredible second-place at Ironman World Champs
Lining up as a favorite for the podium, Matthews lives up to the hype with a fine race to finish second at the Ironman World Champs, roughly nine minutes down on Ryf. The latter dominated for much of the race, but the Brit demonstrated spades of grit and determination to get through a hilly course and maintain a solid pace on the run to keep German powerhouse Anne Haug behind her.
Kat Matthews in quotes
On winning Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote, Matthews wrote: “That moment when you truly embrace the reward for every moment of toil it took. A friend: ‘You don’t get to beat a reigning World Champion every day!’ Thank you all so much for your support. Totally overwhelmed with everyone’s messages!”
On trying to go under eight hours for a full-distance triathlon: “I still think I can beat Nicola, mainly because I think my pacing team is much better. No part of me feels this pressure of, ‘I’ve said I can do it, oh my goodness’. I know I can go sub-eight and I know I can give Nicola a really good race.”
On coming second at the 2021 Ironman World Championship in St George, she wrote: “What an adventure that race was! I smiled at one point (the only time I think) whilst I had a moment of realisation that I was racing at the front of the Ironman World Championship with Daniela on the bike and we were pulling away.
“It was incredible (then I got dropped bad)… but one day. I aspire to be better! We bring each other up in this sport.”
What’s next for Kat Matthews?
The next task on her list is the small matter of the Sub8 attempt at the start of June. Matthews replaced fellow Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay for the project following the latter’s hip injury and will now compete with Nicola Spirig as both attempt to complete a long-distance triathlon in under eight hours.
And she’s sure to be going into the event with plenty of confidence following the result in St George. Weeks before the Ironman World Champs, she told 220, “I know I can go sub-eight.”
World record attempt aside, Matthews has also expressed an interest in the new PTO Tour and will understandably also have one eye on the October 2022 Ironman World Championship in Kona.
Top image credit: Ryan Jenkinson/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images