Triathlon Magazine Canada - - TRANSITION - BY KEVIN MACKIN­NON

Watch­ing the guy run, you won­der how any­one can beat him. How fast is Jan Fro­deno? This is the guy who won the four-man sprint at the Bei­jing Olympics, tak­ing the gold over Canada’s very own Si­mon Whit­field. Af­ter mov­ing to long dis­tance rac­ing to­wards the end of 2013, the man known as “Frodis­simo” had spec­ta­tors at Iron­man 70.3 Ocean­side gasp­ing in awe as he sim­ply ran away from some of the world’s best triath­letes. It was in a race that should have been a to­tal dis­as­ter, though, that the triathlon world re­ally got a glimpse of just how fast Jan Fro­deno is.

At last year’s Iron­man Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in Frank­furt, com­pet­ing in his first Iron­man race, Fro­deno ran a 2:43 marathon. Im­pres­sive right? Not at all. Here’s what’s im­pres­sive about that run: he spent about six min­utes on the side of the path along the River Main stretch­ing out his legs as they cramped so badly he was forced to stop. When he was mov­ing, he was run­ning six-minute miles. When he wasn’t, he was at a dead stop. The cramps were just one of the many things that had gone wrong for the Ger­man that day. Af­ter lead­ing the way out of the wa­ter, Fro­deno man­aged to get three flats, which forced him to spend al­most 15 min­utes on the side of the road. As he pressed to try and get back into the race he didn’t get enough nutri­tion, which led to the cramps. What makes Fro­deno the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional, though, is the way he han­dled that tough day. Some­how he man­aged to put a pos­i­tive spin on it, but most im­por­tantly, he learned from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“In terms of a learn­ing curve, it couldn’t have gone bet­ter than it did in Frank­furt,” he said af­ter the race. “To have a happy end­ing on the podium af­ter a day of re­ally stick­ing it out and giv­ing it ab­so­lutely all I had – I was car­ried off from the fin­ish line, there was noth­ing in me – and also deal­ing with the up and downs, all that taught me what Iron­man is about. I was also happy to stick to my motto: ‘If you have any way pos­si­ble of get­ting to the fin­ish line you need to.’ That’s what got me through.”

A few months later, on the Big Is­land, Fro­deno ar­rived at the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship as one of the pre-race favourites, de­spite the fact that he’d never com­peted in Kona be­fore. Since the long-dis­tance Gods seem to be de­ter­mined to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion, he flat­ted again, then man­aged to get a po­si­tion penalty when he was try­ing to get him­self back up with the lead­ers. Once again he held things to­gether and fin­ished third.

The learn­ing ap­pears to be done now. In July, re­turn­ing to Frank­furt, Fro­deno man­aged to beat de­fend­ing Kona champ, Se­bas­tian Kienle, at his own game, out­rid­ing his coun­try­man on the way to a new Frank­furt bike course record (4:08), then run­ning a 2:50 marathon in the 45 C heat to set a new course record of 7:49:48.

He fin­ished al­most 12 min­utes ahead of Kienle and sig­nalled to the world that he has this long dis­tance thing fig­ured out.

Not that any of this should be a sur­prise. Orig­i­nally a swim­mer, Fro­deno was in­tro­duced to triathlon while grow­ing up in South Africa. He did his first triathlon as a 19-year-old and it didn’t take long for his nat­u­ral tal­ent to help him progress in the sport. Born in Cologne, he re­turned to Ger­many to race in that coun­try’s com­pet­i­tive Bun­desliga club sys­tem and was named to the na­tional team in 2002. His win at the Olympics six years later came as a bit of a sur­prise, but it shouldn’t have. The same drive that is now mak­ing him one of the most dom­i­nant long dis­tance rac­ers in the world was help­ing him achieve his Olympic dream back then, too.

“To win the Iron­man world cham­pi­onship for me, per­son­ally, would be ev­ery­thing,” he said dur­ing an in­ter­view at last year’s Euro­pean Iron­man cham­pi­onship. “I was just talk­ing to a media guy here and he in­ter­viewed me in 2005 and he re­mem­bered say­ing back then: “Your eyes were glow­ing and you wanted to be world cham­pion.” I have the same mo­ti­va­tion and drive now. That goal … it just comes nat­u­ral to me and I’m will­ing to work 365 days a year for it.”

“It was time for me to find a new chal­lenge,” he con­tin­ued. “I love the Olympics. To be hon­est the Olympics, for me, is still the great­est sport­ing event out there. But Iron­man is like Wim­ble­don if you are a ten­nis player. You want to be there. You want to get your name up there.”

Of course the tran­si­tion wasn’t easy. In his first Iron­man 70.3 event in 2013 the vol­un­teers couldn’t find his biketo-run tran­si­tion bag, which even­tu­ally cost him the win. At the Iron­man 70.3 World Cham­pi­onship that year he was forced to pull out half­way through the run thanks to Achilles ten­don is­sues. Af­ter dom­i­nat­ing his next few 70.3 races in 2013, he had to en­dure the chal­lenges of those first two Iron­man races. (Even Fro­deno’s wife, Olympic gold medal­list and three-time world cham­pion Emma Snowsill, com­mented dur­ing the cov­er­age of the race in Frank­furt that her hus­band had a lot to learn if he was ever go­ing to be a con­tender in an Iron­man.)

The podium fin­ish in Kona cer­tainly sig­nalled that things were go­ing in the right di­rec­tion, but this year’s im­pres­sive Frank­furt race has taken Fro­deno’s Kona sta­tus from con­tender to favourite. None of that is taken for granted by him, though. Un­like some who have moved up to long-dis­tance rac­ing from the ITU stage, Fro­deno is hardly ready to as­sume that be­cause he spent over a decade of his life rac­ing in the in­cred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive ITU and Olympic scene he’ll nat­u­rally dom­i­nate in Iron­man and 70.3 rac­ing.

“I think at the pointy end of the race it’s [long dis­tance rac­ing] al­ways been com­pet­i­tive,” he says. “When ITU ath­letes like my­self come up, some of the older crew are re­al­iz­ing they have to adapt their game plan, too.

It just makes it more ex­cit­ing. There are go­ing to be shorter dif­fer­ences – there aren’t go­ing to be guys win­ning by huge mar­gins. It’s go­ing to be tight right un­til the end.”

Last year’s Iron­man 70.3 World Cham­pi­onship in Mont-trem­blant served as a preview to that pre­dic­tion. Fro­deno wasn’t the only ITU world champ in the field – Javier Gomez ar­rived as a mon­strous favourite, too. Bring­ing the same an­a­lyt­i­cal ap­proach to the race that he’d used for years in Olympic dis­tance rac­ing, Fro­deno iden­ti­fied two main com­peti­tors: de­fend­ing cham­pion Kienle and Gomez, the man Fro­deno con­sid­ers to be “the great­est triath­lete that we have cur­rently.”

The race plan was sim­ple: keep the pace up high dur­ing the swim and on the bike so Kienle, a weaker swim­mer, would be in chase mode through­out the day. Then the idea was to hurt Gomez as much as pos­si­ble on the bike. In the end 50 per cent of the plan worked. Kienle was never a fac­tor for the win, but Gomez was only a few sec­onds be­hind off the bike and man­aged to out­run Fro­deno for the ti­tle. But it was close, prov­ing Fro­deno’s point that as we see more and more short course ath­letes of his cal­i­bre mov­ing to long dis­tance rac­ing, we’re go­ing to see some fire­works.

Which is ex­actly what we’re all an­tic­i­pat­ing in Kona later this year. Fro­deno is hooked on dis­tance train­ing and rac­ing and knows ex­actly what is re­quired to be­come a world cham­pion over the Iron­man dis­tance.

“I’m sur­pris­ingly lov­ing it,” he says of the move to long dis­tance rac­ing. “For a long time I thought that Iron­man wouldn’t be for me. Now, hon­estly I am not miss­ing the short course rac­ing.”

Fro­deno is also all too aware of just how hard it will be to win in Kona. In keep­ing with his at­ten­tion to de­tail, he was out check­ing things out in Kona years be­fore he would give the race a shot.

“I re­mem­ber watch­ing Crowie [Craig Alexan­der] in 2011 in Hawaii when he broke the course record. I started fol­low­ing him and watch­ing him as he went along. He started walk­ing 3 km out and I thought ‘This guy’s about to be world cham­pion, in course record time, and he’s walk­ing.’ Com­ing from Olympic dis­tance, my world just shat­tered. I didn’t know what just hap­pened. So I re­al­ized the last hour, even if I’m hav­ing a great day, is go­ing to suck.”

It might suck, but tak­ing the world ti­tle would make all the pain that much more worth­while. He’s done his home­work. He’s paid his dues. He’s proven he can beat the very best in the sport. Now all he has to do is re­peat it all on the Big Is­land this Oc­to­ber.

Jan Fro­deno col­lapses af­ter fin­ish­ing third at the 2014 Iron­man Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship Frank­furt Fro­deno races the 2014 Iron­man Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship Frank­furt


Jan Fro­deno takes gold at the Bei­jing 2008 Olympic Games in a time of 1:48:53


Jan Fro­deno fin­ishes the 2014 Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship in Kona


A quiet mo­ment be­fore the 2010 Dex­tro Energy Triathlon ITU World Cham­pi­onship Se­ries Syd­ney


Fro­deno cel­e­brates the Ger­man team win­ning the ITU 2013 Mixed Re­lay Triathlon World Cham­pi­onships in Ham­burg, Ger­many


Jan Fro­deno on his way to win­ning the 2015 Iron­man Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship Frank­furt. In spite of the 40 C heat he set a new course record of 7:49:48.

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