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A new Iron War
It's officially a new era of triathlon.
Kona special edition II: Oct. 9, 2022
Reminder: This is the second of our special Kona post-race editions, after the men’s race yesterday. You can read the women’s on-the-ground recap from Thursday. We’ll be back to regular weekly Wednesday morning newsletters on, well, Wednesday.
I would also like to warn you all that I am very very tired, and I think the only thing that stopped some of the pro women from being equally tired is adrenaline. The extra day in between really messes with your whole race-spectate-party-recover vibe. It’s like every day we just do this all over again.
And a big thanks to Hoka for helping me out as I get up and running. I was gonna shoestring this trip (airline miles, bumming hotel rooms off friends), but Hoka offered to cover my flight and half my hotel just to get more coverage of the event—since they’re a title sponsor—and it’s not the worse PR strategy. Also appreciated having a hotel right in town during exhausting race days! I think that makes Hoka our first official sponsor of Triathlonish.
On Thursday, when I ran into the Norwegians’ agent/manager at the finish line after Chelsea’s win, I told him: An all rookie Kona, I’m here for it, let’s do it. I am ready for a new guard of the sport.
Well, the guard has now officially changed.
Yesterday, the top ten men all went under 8 hours at the Ironman World Championship—something previously considered nearly impossible. The top four, all of whom were racing on the Big Island for the first time, all broke Jan Frodeno’s previous course record of 7:51. Covering 140.6 miles in 8:06 on Saturday left you out of the prize money—a time that would have won here almost every other year. Yes, that was pushed in many ways by Gustav Iden in first and Kristian Blummenfelt in third and everything they’ve done to take the sport to a new level (fear of The Norwegians has been a powerful motivator), but it was also because every single one of the young athletes (especially Sam Laidlow) believed a new era was already here and they would not, could not, be held back by old expectations.
You can read a full recap of how it played out here and results here, but basically: It was very very fast from the start and everyone was fast from the start, and if you weren’t or if you were counting on them all imploding later, then you just got left behind.
IMO: Sam Laidlow in second was a bigger surprise than Chelsea winning. The pre-race predictions had him coming 23rd. He was 8th back in St. George in May. He’s DNF’d almost as many Ironmans as he’s finished—which is only a handful of either. He’s also blown up notably at a few races already this year. So when he took a flyer off the front of the bike and set a new bike course record, I was not the only one who was like ‘well, at least he had the guts to go for it even though he’ll blow up, good for him.’ Even Gustav said he thought that. Gustav thought that all the way up until he thought: Shit, I need to catch him. Then everyone ran in the 2:40s, except for the two Norwegians who ran 2:36 and 2:39. This race went differently than races have always gone here.
Here are some old rules of Kona that did not apply this week: You have to take multiple years here to learn how to win in Kona; you can’t win on your first time. You have to respect that the island is somehow different from all other hot, humid, windy races. You have to be conservative; you can’t race it aggressively off the front. You can’t win as a young athlete here.
Here are the ages of the top ten athletes yesterday: 26, 23, 28, 27, 34, 38, 26, 24, 23, 36. The three in their 30s were veterans Joe Skipper, Sebi Kienle, and Patrick Lange. Everyone else was new here.
Here is something else you never used to see: Two absolute competitors, rivals, and also training buddies, teammates racing side by side for hours. As someone said to me when we were watching Gustav and Kristian run effortlessly smoothly, just like they’d been running around the condo complex: They’re best friends who are going to drag each other to the win, and might also kill each other doing it. With > Against.
I really hope the answer to how the level of competition has gotten so elevated is that greatness inspires greatness, that people have been training harder and smarter the last few years, that the money pouring into tri has changed the game, that the tech & data backing up the training is more fine-tuned than ever, that it’s just a new goddamn era. I really hope that’s the answer to the question, and that we don’t later find out the answer was actually something else sinister. Because that would make me really really sad.
Odds and ends from the Ironman World Championships that never ends
Gustav and Kristian plan to go back to World Triathlon racing immediately after 70.3 Worlds in three weeks (ie. back to Olympic short-course draft-legal). Gustav wants to win gold at the 2024 Olympics. Kristian would like to win Kona and then also another Olympics. Some people think this is sorta crazy (Gustav, clearly, is one of the best long-course athletes in the world, possibly ever, and could make a lot of money sticking with longer distances), but them doing their own thing has worked so far for them, so why not. Out with old ideas!
One of the side benefits of having two separate races is that the men have been able to watch and learn from the women’s mistakes. That’s been happening at the PTO races and it happened here as well.
What did we learn watching the women? Walk the aid stations, take all the water, don’t get a penalty. With the refs able to focus so much more on each individual race, the additional penalties were inevitable. But we probably also need to start getting a list at the end the penalties, who, which ref, and when.
The other thing that started awhile ago at PTO races—because the races were split into separate days—was the men cheering the women and waving their shirts around & then the women out in sports bras waving their shirts the next day. This isn’t suddenly new and we could probably chill out about it.
There were many many many more spectators yesterday than Thursday—more like a normal amount for Kona and Ali’i and the Queen K. It was a product of the athletes who raced on Thursday coming out on Saturday, plus the families etc of Saturday athletes didn’t really come out on Thursday, plus it’s a weekend so you get more locals and related-ness. That’s just the reality and probably part of why the races should switch back and forth every year.
Could really stand for people to not call Thursday a “rehearsal” though.
Kristian got carried out on a stretcher.
Gustav spent a long, long time taking selfies and signing autographs at the finish line. Apparently, Sebi Kienle once told him to enjoy every victory, so that’s what he’s doing. And, yes, he wore his lucky hat.
Sebi went sub-8 hours for his final Kona ever (even if it would have won before and only got him 6th this year), and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the stands.
Max Neumann surprised me both with his surge ahead of the Norwegians on the run, and with his holding the gap for 4th after he got re-caught. Was this Team BMC’s most successful year?
Magnus Ditlev told the group (Kristian, Max, Gustav) that he would have to serve a penalty at the end of the bike, so that they knew. Which is actually kind of a big deal for him to do; information can be hard to come by out there. I also think he’ll win this race one year.
Tim O’Donnell was the only one all day who smiled at us and high-fived. He seemed just so happy to be there.
Jan wants to win one more. He’s said it multiple times, in multiple interviews. He thinks he can do it, but it’d take a perfect year. The Norwegians make him lose sleep, but I think he thinks he needs to beat them. He also said in one Hoka event this week that every time he’s gotten seriously injured it was because he was trying to mimic someone else’s running style—most recently trying subconsciously to run more like the Norwegians.
But who won our predictions contest?
Most importantly: Let’s announce the winners of our Kona predictions contest.
Per the points for right picks set-up, we’ve got two winners: Francisco & Kim. We’ll also award a third special prize for Jocelyn, for being the only person who picked Chelsea for the win. (No one picked Sam for the podium.)
And for the absolute worst picks, it’s all Tim—who boldly went for Ivan Tutukin.
I’ll contact you all for your prizes!
We’ll be back Wednesday with a normal newsletter, our last thoughts on the future of two-day world championships here, and likely move onto more of the “ish” in triathlonish.