The fastest man on the planet and the most successful man in history will spark arguably the strongest field for a decade in next week's Ironman New Zealand in Taupo.

Belgium's Marino Vanhoenacker set the triathlon world in a spin when he set a new world's best time for an Ironman of 7h 45m 50s in Austria last year, which took five minutes off the previous best time established 14 years previously.

The 35-year-old, a six-time winner of Ironman Austria and a podium place-getter at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, will throw down the strongest challenge for many years to Cameron Brown, who has won in Taupo a record 10 times.

This remarkable pair won't have it on their own.


Kiwi Terenzo Bozzone, the 2009 Ironman 70.3 World Champion and runner-up to Brown in Taupo in the last three years, is returning after surgery on a troublesome Achilles.

Fellow New Zealander Keegan Williams from Cambridge has been fourth over the past two years in Taupo and will be pushing for his first podium there.

Standing in the way is Australia's Aaron Farlow, the Ironman UK winner who took out Wanaka last month, and Frenchman Romain Guillaume, who was runner-up to Farlow in the UK and also second at IM Wisconsin.

Estonian Marko Albert is a double Olympian who clocked a remarkable 8h 8m on debut in Austria last year and Germany's Torsten Abel was runner-up at IM Arizona last year.

Kiwis Jamie Whyte, a former winner at Wanaka, and James Bowstead round out the men's seedings.

Joanna Lawn is focused on winning back her crown in the women's race after a mechanical problem cost her last year. The seven-time winner is the top seed, with last year's champion Samantha Warriner not racing as she is expecting a child.

However, two super-mums are set to challenge Lawn. New Zealand's Gina Crawford and American Jessica Jacobs are ironman winners around the globe and both have lofty goals in the sport since motherhood.

Crawford made her way out of the string section of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra to strike up a stunning career, with ironman victories in Western Australia (2008, 2009), Wisconsin (2007, 2010) and Taupo (2009), with four top-six finishes over only three years. Add to that four other iron-distance wins, including a comeback victory in Wanaka in January only six months after giving birth to son Benji.

Jacobs is a former member of the US armed forces and turned to triathlon after the birth of her daughter. She had nearly seven years in the army serving in Korea, Germany, Virginia, Kentucky and Texas. She has a running background, with a best marathon last year of 2h 48m, and is looking at the qualifying mark of 2h 45m for the US Olympic Trials.

The 33-year-old had a breakthrough victory in Florida in 2010, followed up last year with wins at IM Wisconsin and her second in a row in Florida in a remarkable 8h 55m - the 13th-fastest ironman time in history by a female.