The pressure cooker that is the life of a favourite at the Ironman World Championship jumps in intensity on the Thursday before the Ironman World Championship when a select few of the stacked field are invited to the press conference. This year’s presser featured many of the big names who will be hitting the water off the Kailua pier in the morning – here are some photos and quotes from yesterday’s event:
She’s won four consecutive Kona titles, but last year’s race was one that she’s most proud of, Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf says: “Things happen and you have to overcome the problems out there.”
A jellyfish sting is possibly a bit more than just a “problem,” but Ryf over came that to shatter the course record last year. Despite her dominance, Ryf is hardly resting on her laurels:
“The competition gets better and better,” she says. “I had a fantastic swim in Nice and when I came out of the water I was surrounded by 15 girls. Since then I’ve worked even harder on the bike.”
He’s won here the last two years in a row – last year becoming the first man to go under eight hours. The record breaker, Patrick Lange, has a stirling record here in Kona – a third and two wins, so despite a challenging season so far, he is certainly one of the favourites for tomorrow’s race.
“It means a lot to me that I will go down in history as the first to go under eight hours here in Kona,” he says.
A dramatic and exciting race would be just fine for the German – when asked if there could be a repeat of the famed IronWar between Dave Scott and Mark Allen on the 20th anniversary of their duel, he was all in.
“If I could be one of the guys running side by side – I would love to be part of that,” he says.
Second the last two years here in Kona, a tough drafing call in Nice meant the best the British star could muster was fifth. That might, though, have been the best thing that could possibly happen for Lucy Charles-Barclay.
Charles-Barclay says she was back training hard just a few days after the race in Nice, more motivated than ever.
“It was a disappointment, but it was all that I needed,” she says. “I’ve worked really hard for this race.”
While some were surprised to see Belgium’s Bart Aernouts take the runner-up spot in last year’s race, those who have been tracking the Belgian’s career weren’t remotely surprised – while he had failed to reach the podium before, he’s won big races in the past (Challenge Roth, Ironman Nice and others) and has a few top-10 finishes here in Kona to his credit.
“I saw last year’s result as my big reward for coming back here year after year,” he says.
Aernouts seems really relaxed and also knows full well that predictions often get thrown out the window in Kona. “I’m looking forward to the surprise,” he says.
Third at the 70.3 worlds last year, Anne Haug made her Kona debut with a third-place finish, too. The German has been injured for much of the year, but nailed her Kona spot with a huge course-record performance at Ironman Copenhagen.
“I surprised myself,” she says of her race in Denmark. “I had only done four weeks of running. It boosted my confidence for my race here.”
Despite the fact that he’d finished third the year before, last year’s third-place finish here in Kona was a bit of a surprise for Scotland’s David McNamee.
“I didn’t think I would get third after the bike I had,” he says. “I’ve worked really hard over the last year to get to the start line with better cycling legs.”
It’s been a long year for American Sarah True coming into Kona. With a huge lead at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, she collapsed with less than a kilometre to go.
“What Ironman Frankfurt was was a good learning experience on how to bounce back and methodically evaluate what happened,” she says. “It’s not as simple as I bonked.”
“Racing is filled with uncertainty and this year’s Kona is another level of uncertainty,” she says.
The two-time champ had to sit on the sidelines here last year, seeing the perfect conditions and his countryman, Patrick Lange, set a new course record. All of which provides lots of motivation as Jan Frodeno looks to become the first German to win three Kona titles.
While he acknowledges that the race could end up being strategic, the 2008 Olympic champ sees the decisive qualities of a champion here in Kona as being pretty simple:
“We all know that its not about base or fitness when it comes to getting the win here,” he says. “It’s how hungry you are and how deep you are willing to go.”
He’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but despite those impressive laurels, Great Britain’s Alistair Brownlee is hoping “everyone else will forget me.”
That’s not going to happen and even though he’s tried to stay relatively low key this week, he does admit that he’s always prided himself on being able to win in a variety of different ways.
“I hope I can make the right decisions so I am able to run a good marathon,” he says.
She was sixth last year, third the year before, but finishing off the podium last year was not for want of trying on Australian Sarah Crowley‘s part.
“I went for the podium, for sure,” she says. “I went hard on the bike and suffered for the last half of the run. I don’t think its possible to race your own race here, and there’s no other place other than here where you face that level of competition.”
We boldly predicted that the three-time Kona champ from Australia, Mirinda Carfrae, would be a factor in this years race, but that was before she broke her arm in the lead up to the race.
“I’m here to race,” she says, “to put my best performance out on race day.”
Another man who was injured for much of the year was American Tim O’Donnell, who suffered a broken rib early in the year and then foot injuries for the latter part of the season.
“This is my third start of the season,” he says. “You set down your hand and play your cards.”
After years of finishing in the top 10, Heather Jackson struggled here in Kona last year.
“It was a rough one last year, but I learned so much,” she says. “It was the biggest learning experience of my career.”
Jackson took those learned experiences and nailed her day at Ironman Arizona a month after the race in Kona, then took Ironman Vittoria-Gastiez this summer – a race she raved about to the press.
“The race was absolutely incredible,” she says. “The fans are so enthusiastic, literally the entire town was shaking.”
New Zealand’s Braden Curry, the Ironman Asia-Pacific champion, figures the race here in Kona is “impossible to call.”
“There is some real depth and some real unknowns,” he says. “Its a day where you have to cover the moves and hope that, at the end, you are in the fight.”