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Weekend video – Iron to the Core: Sebastian Kienle

Our weekend viewing suggestion - a documentary on Sebastian Kienle's return to Kona after becoming the Ironman World Champion.

One of the sport’s most popular professionals, Sebastian Kienle offers some insights into what it takes to be the Ironman world champion in this RedBull documentary.

Sebastian Kienle at the 2018 Ironman World Championship press conference. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

As the 2014 Ironman world champion, Sebastian Kienle returned to the Big Island in 2015 with lots of pressure and expectations. Many were anticipating a close battle between he and countryman Jan Frodeno, but it was not to be the defending champ’s day – he would eventually finish a creditable eighth, which is fantastic for most, but a tough day for the defending champion.

RedBull TV caught the emotion, drive and dedication required to be one of the world’s greatest triathletes in this documentary on the German star: Iron to the Core: Sebastian Kienle. Click here (or on the image below) to watch the video.

A year later we did get to see that much-anticipated close battle between Kienle and Frodeno in Kona. Here’s how I described that race in our November, 2016 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada:

Frodeno has always said that there’s nothing more challenging than racing a “motivated Sebastian Kienle.” Calling Kienle “motivated” this year is a huge understatement. The amicable German has been on edge for much of the year, singularly focussed on getting the title he won in 2014 back. In Frankfurt for the Ironman European Championship, Kienle hammered on the bike but was even more aggressive on the run, as if to prepare himself for the challenge he knew lay ahead in Kona. In Mooloolaba Kienle was frustrated not to have been able to outkick Tim Reed for the title. (When asked at the pre-race press conference how he felt about the race in Mooloolaba, Kienle joked “All I can say is that Tim Reed doesn’t want to be in a sprint with me any time soon.”)

Which set us up for the dramatic men’s race that unfolded.

As we’re used to seeing, Frodeno was amongst the swim leaders, but ended up not happy with the result of the swim. As he tried to drive the early pace Harry Wiltshire positioned himself really tightly on Frodeno’s hip, hindering his ability to finish his stroke. So, instead of pulling away a small group, Frodeno found himself coming third out of the water behind Wiltshire and Andy Potts and with lots of company – 12 men were within 16 seconds heading into T1 including Canada’s Brent McMahon, Germany’s Andreas Boecherer, American Tim O’Donnell and the UK’s former ITU world champ Tim Don.

2016 Ironman World Championship

Kienle would find himself four-minutes down out of the water, but “had great bike legs” and was able to ride his way to the front of the field by the climb up to Hawi, which starts at mile 42 of the 112-mile course. At that point in the race there were 24 men within 32 seconds of each other, which set up a number of riders for penalties (see Canadians sidebar).

Kienle continued to drive the pace through the rest of the bike, eventually coming off in first with a small group of seven (Boecherer, Frodeno, Luke McKenzie, Ben Hoffman, Boris Stein and Tim O’Donnell were all just 42 seconds apart by the end of the ride).

Frodeno said later that he suffered through the bike, but it is a tribute to just how strong he is that he was able to exit T2 in first, with Kienle just seconds behind.

The announcers were all calling it another version of the famed IronWar between Mark Allen and Dave Scott from 1989, but there was a big differences in this German version: Kienle spent much of the time running behind Frodeno, seemingly marking the defending champion, whereas Scott and Allen ran shoulder to shoulder. One big similarity, though, was just how hard the two pushed.

“Sebastian really put the pressure on me,” Frodeno said after the race. “I had my watch on to see the splits and I could see it was an optimistic pace. He is the kind of guy who gets the most out of himself. He showed why he is one of the best in the world.”

The other big difference in this IronWar? Frodeno got away much earlier – at 10 miles versus Allen’s 24.

“I was fairing a bit better on the downhills and I decided to open things up at the top of the hill [at the top of Palani] and I was able to break the string [and get away].”

2016 Ironman World Championship

Once he opened the gap Frodeno was unstoppable, eventually winning the race by 3:33 in 8:06:30. Kienle would hang on for second, while Patrick Lange, competing in just his second Ironman race, passed 19 men in T2 and on the run. His 2:39 marathon broke Mark Allen’s 26-year-old course record by two minutes and wrapped up the all-German podium.