The IRONMAN World Championship in Kona has created some legends of the sport and in some peoples view it is the very pinnacle of sporting endeavour. This year’s edition is set to be one of the greatest we have ever witnessed.
The start list for the men’s and women’s races boast Olympic Champions, World Champions and World record holders across all distances of triathlon, setting up an incredible battle between the very best the sport has seen over the last decade (and perhaps lifespan) of the sport.
HUUB’s greatest hopes lie in double Olympic Champion Alistair Brownlee (GBR) and David McNamee (GBR) who has finished 3rd in 2017 and 2018, but they will certainly not have an easy run!
There have been many epic battles in Kona during its history, however as the sport has developed and grown the competition has intensified. In recent years we have seen the very best ITU athletes move up to the longer distance events. The most successful of these, for now, has been Jan Frodeno (GER). The 2008 Olympic Champion earned back-to-back victories in 2015 and 2016 before injury plagued his most recent attempts. His main rivals were those who never had much of an ITU career but thrived over the longer events, Sebastian Kienle (GER), Patrick Lange (GER) and Lionel Sanders (CAN) to name a few. David McNamee (GBR) was arguably the first ITU star to really threaten and is certainly one to watch this year after two incredibly impressive runs earned him back-to-back podium finishes.
In 2018 we saw 5-time ITU World Champion Javier Gomez (ESP) make an attempt at Kona. And although successful over the half distance events, including being crowned World Champion in 2014 and 2017 he ultimately fell short and has since made a temporary switch back to short course racing to focus on the Tokyo Olympics.
Alistair Brownlee is in many people’s opinion the greatest ITU athlete of all time and a win this weekend will surely cement his name in the history books as the greatest overall athlete to have graced this sport. He has been narrowly pushed into second place at the last two 70.3 World Championships, however, he has admitted he has never arrived at either with 100% fitness. Although Brownlee qualified off Ironman Ireland, the swim was cancelled meaning this will be his first ‘full’ Ironman. In this era, a victory in his debut will be beyond impressive.
There are many other names to mention in such a strong field, and with the nature of Kona, there are several athletes who, on their day, have the ability to win. Other HUUB athletes to watch out for include Danill Sapunov (UKR), Matt Trautman (RSA), and David Plese (SVN).
The women’s field is equally competitive with nearly all the top 10 finishers from last year present, but there will still be one firm favourite in the shape of Daniela Ryf (SUI). The Swiss athlete has dominated the event for the last four years, including smashing the World Record last year. Along with her four Ironman World Titles, she has also won the 70.3 World Championships no fewer than five times to make her the most successful long-distance athlete ever. Ryf also comes from an ITU background and although not as successful as her long-distance career she has still medalled at an ITU World Championships. It is hard to look past Ryf for victory, she dominated in Nice at the 70.3 World Championships and barring injury or mechanical she looks set to make it five years in a row.
In the last couple of years, the only athlete that has been able to push her has been Lucy Charles (GBR). The ex-international swimmer burst onto the scene a few years ago and put pressure on Ryf in the swim and bike, sometimes only being caught midway through the run, although her run is improving year on year, she is yet to stop the dominance of Ryf. Anne Haug (GER) is quite possibly the next biggest threat, and she is one of the many ITU athletes that has moved up to the longer distance events and in recent races has shown her potential over the distance. Her strength lies in the run and has recorded an incredibly quick 2.36 at the Frankfurt marathon in 2016, which is close to world-class in the running world, let alone as a triathlete.
In similarity to the men, there are numerous women present on the start line that have the ability to put in a great race and challenge the leading three. With the tough and unforgiving nature of the race, anything can happen!