STATE OF PLAY
A reformed drug addict, a former Olympic rower and a couple of feisty Brits meant Kona 2017 gave hope to everyone eyeing a shot at the Ironman world title
Celebrating unpredictable Kona
Watching nine hours straight of
the Ironman World Champs in Kona, even on its improved new home of Red Bull TV, is quite a commitment – especially when a processional masterclass looked more likely than a competitive race.
Both Daniela Ryf and Jan Frodeno had won the past two editions, and scanning the pre-race odds of 1-10 for the win abruptly curtailed any chance of a flutter on the reigning champions. But wind forward a few hours, and Cameron Wurf – a former Olympic rower who’d barely made a ripple in triathlon – had set a new bike course record, only to be overtaken by reformed drug addict Lionel Sanders, whose running style and singlet made him look like an extra from a scene in Rocky with a stone in his shoe.
On the women’s side, Ryf did win a third consecutive Ironman title, but only after hunting down young Brit Lucy Charles, a former open-water swimmer and personal trainer, with 2006 Deloitte Businesswoman of the Year, Sarah Crowley, who’s been racing non-drafting tri for less than two years, a close third.
It underlined once again the gloriously unpredictable nature of who has the makeup of an Ironman warrior; the traits being less about the technical perfection of swimming, biking and running, but the single-minded drive to attain peak endurance fitness combined with mental willpower to suffer in the most oppressive of arenas.
It strips them all bare, and the raw post-race honesty is a joyous antidote to the PR-managed press conferences of more mainstream sport. Ryf, who usually exhibits such coolness, was flat-out on the carpet at the finish and wept into the microphone. Charles, who just two years ago was competing as an age-grouper, was also in tears, while Sanders, the Canadian with the history of substance abuse, cared not that’d he’d been run down in the final miles by course recordsetting German Patrick Lange, but that it had been the brutal contest he’d pined for.
And then there was David McNamee. The 29-year-old Scot abandoned his Olympic dream in 2014 accepting he didn’t have the physiology to match the Brownlees, but ran through for third in one of the fastest times ever recorded in Hawaii. McNamee has never been beaten by a British triathlete at Ironman, and while the sport awaits the Yorkshire brothers stepping up to become the first British men to win Kona, perhaps it’s not such a foregone conclusion they’ll now get there first.
Yet while the competitors can come from all backgrounds – and the race is all the better for it – history proves that Kona champions still need to earn their stripes. It’s a rite of passage to first appear on the podium before winning the Ironman world title. In the past 20 years only Chrissie Wellington in 2007 has bucked the trend, and given McNamee and Charles have both ticked that box, the future looks extremely bright.
state of play
TIM HEMING Cutting through the spin of tri to address the issues that matter, Tim is also a sports journalist for The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.