THE POWER OF KONA
IAM NOT SURE if there’s another sport besides triathlon where one event can define a person’s year. Sure, winning Wimbledon might do it in tennis, but if you’re an also-ran in every other major, your year won’t be considered a big one in the tennis scene.
That all gets thrown out the window, though, when it comes to the Ironman World Championship. Dave Scott used to be renowned for pulling things together, nailing Kona, and running on that achievement for the rest of the year. After winning in Kona last year, Patrick Lange didn’t exactly rip things up through the early part of his race year. “The whole year for me was quite a different experience,” Lange said. “The race that counts the most is Kona. If you come good in Kona, no questions will be asked.”
And he’s right. A few years ago, Jan Frodeno was Germany’s Sportspersonality of the Year. That was a huge deal in the soccer-mad, Formula One-crazy country. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lange’s win in Kona puts him in the ballpark for that award; not only did he defend his title, but he managed to break what many consider triathlon’s equivalent to the four-minute mile: a sub-eight-hour performance in Kona.
If the year was tough for Lange, last year’s third-place finisher in Kona, David McNamee, had it even tougher.
“I think I had a pretty awful season,” McNamee said at the post-race press conference after finishing third for the second year straight. “I don’t think people were expecting much of me. Ultimately this is our world championship – there’s no point being a hero in April and May. The drive and focus for me all year is Hawaii and trying to beat Patrick.”
If you talk to Tim O’Donnell about it all, a bad day in Kona can affect the following 12 months of your training and racing.
“Last year was a hard year for me, definitely,” O’Donnell said of his 19th place finish after finishing sixth the year before. “This sport is very fickle, so I felt like I’d been forgotten a bit.”
A fourth-place finish this year will put O’Donnell back in the conversation. That’s what Kona will do. As competitive as the World Triathlon Series (WTS) might be, my guess is that many of you couldn’t name the winners of this year’s Grand Final, let alone the top five. Even though the race is almost nine hours long, millions of people watch the race in Kona every year. Again, I would imagine that number is much higher than for any single one of the WTS races. Every four years the Olympics might bang on that popularity door, but there’s no other yearly race that draws the same amount of attention.
While the women in the top five in Kona this year have all had pretty impressive years, Angela Naeth’s eighth-place finish was a huge breakthrough in a year that’s been plagued by Lyme disease. That top-10 Kona finish is certainly going to define Naeth’s year, for sure.
It would be nice if our sport wasn’t so Konacentric and there was more attention paid to some of the other stellar races on the calendar, but there’s no two ways about it – Kona defines our saport. Sure, there might have been other multisport events before Commander John Collins and his wife Judy came up with the idea of the Ironman, but for 40 years Commander Collins’s mantra of “swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 and run 26.2, then brag for the rest of your life” continues to define our sport.
I’d also like to use a bit of my editorial space in this issue to say a monstrous thank you to the production team that’s responsible for getting this issue together. Inspired by a German magazine that puts a 170-page issue together the week after Kona, I’ve been pushing the envelope by adding some of our own Kona coverage in our November issue, something most design houses would balk at. I’m sure our art director Warren Wheeler and designer Cristina Bolzon are ready to kill me, but once again they’re awesome work has allowed us to bring you some unique Kona coverage in the issue. Our photo editor, Matt Stetson, somehow manages to find all the great photos you’ll see in this issue together, which is no easy feat. A huge thanks to Paul Phillips, who shot our cover for us in Kona just three days before we went to print. I owe a big thanks to the entire Gripped Publishing and Roseander Main crew for indulging me in the crazy task of getting this November issue together every year.
I hope you enjoy it.
KEVIN MACKINNON EDITOR
John and Judy Collins at the Parade of Nations LEFT
Paul Phillips shoots Angela Naeth for this issue’s cover