Age: 33 Specs: 5-foot-6, 115 pounds
Home: Victoria, British Columbia
THE CASE: When the Canadian swapped her bike for her running shoes to start the final leg of her Hawaii Ironman professional debut in 1996, she was in 30th place. "When I finished eighth," she says, "I knew I'd eventually have a shot at winning it." Indeed. Owing to her running prowess, these days Bowden routinely gobbles up seemingly unbeatable competitors' leads. Take her first Hawaii Ironman win, in 1999: Entering the run three minutes down, Bowden recorded the event's first sub-three-hour marathon by a woman, winning by seven minutes. In 2000 she sealed her arrival with two major triathlon victories, in Australia and Canada. Now just imagine how good she'll be when she improves her shabby swimming ability. (In her Hawaii win she finished the swim in an abysmal 89th place.)
SECOND OPINION: Karen Smyers, who finished second in Hawaii in 1999, says: "The biggest thing she's got going for her is that she really has no idea how good she is."
MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Nearly drowning in the pounding surf during the swim leg at a sprint triathlon in Chile last January.
WHAT'S NEXT: Erasing the 4 minutes and 45 seconds standing between her Ironman best and Paula Newby-Fraser's world-record time (8:50:23), set in 1994.