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

220 Triathlon Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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.

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