N 1997 I WAS IN KONA FOR THE IRONMAN
IWorld Championship in part as a coach – I worked with Lori Bowden and Lisa Bentley at the time – and also to cover the event as a freelancer for CBC Radio.
Earlier that week I had interviewed Thomas Hellreigel, the runner-up from a year earlier, and asked him how he thought Peter Reid might fare in the race. “Peter won’t be with us in Hawi,” he said. “But he beat both you and Jurgen [Zack] in Australia this year,” I said. “You don’t think he can ride with you?”
Exasperated, Hellreigel gave me a look, grabbed my microphone and said: “Peter…will…not…be…with…us…in…hawi.” A few days later I got to see just how frightening the German juggernaut can be when it comes to racing in Kona. Hellreigel and Zack hammered through the bike. Along the Queen K they pushed the pace so hard that Reid, who gamely tried to hang on, was shattered by the time he got to the famed 7-11 store in Kawaihai that signals the start of the long climb up to Hawi. Reid saw his coach, Roch Frey, in the parking lot and climbed off his bike.
“I’m done,” he said. (Frey would insist that Reid get back on his bike – the Canadian would eventually run his way to fourth, setting up his first Kona win the next year.)
After dispensing with Reid and the rest of the field, Hellreigel and Zack would ride and run their way to the championship. Third that day went to Lothar Leder. The German domination continued – in the end there were five Germans in the top 10.
Fast forward 19 years. Rather than wait for the 20th anniversary of the all-german podium, Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Kienle and Patrick Lange decided they would do the repeat performance a year early. Add in Andreas Boecherer (fifth) and Boris Stein (seventh) and you have five in top 10, too.
Oh, and the top age g roup racers on the day? German, too.
If the men’s race was dominated by the Germans, the women’s race was an all-swiss show that starred Daniela Ryf, who took the race in record-setting fashion, posting the eighth-fastest swim, fastest bike by eight minutes and even out-ran the sport’s premier runner, Mirinda Carfrae, to annihilate the course record by a whopping six minutes with her 8:46:46 finish, almost 24 minutes ahead of runner-up Carfrae, the previous record holder.
Frodeno crossing the line to take his back-to-back Kona victories