The last time the world’s best long-distance triathletes were all on the Big Island to compete at the Ironman World Championship was 2019, and there have been a lot of changes in the triathlon world since that time. Most notably, for triathlon fans, has been the rise of Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt to the top of the triathlon ranks – at pretty much every distance. The reigning Olympic gold medalist (and World Triathlon Series world champion) stunned the world with a record-setting Ironman debut in Cozumel, then continued on his dominating streak with a big win at the Ironman World Championship in St. George, and a 6:44:25 clocking at the Sub7 project about a month later.
Even though he’s a world champion, Blummenfelt is still a Kona “rookie” – this will be his first appearance at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. The Norwegian will race with Bib #1, arriving as the men’s favourite. That goes up against years of tradition at this event. For the men, the winner of the race almost always finished on the podium the previous year. The times that didn’t happen over the last quarter century, the winner had taken the Kona title before.
All of which tells you that experience plays a huge role in the outcome of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
Does that mean Blummenfelt shouldn’t be considered the favourite? Hardly. He has dominated races over the last two years at every distance, in every conceivable weather conditions. That said, he’ll be facing a tough field of Kona vets and up and coming stars on the Big Island on Oct. 8.
Canada’s own Lionel Sanders is amongst that group. Second in Kona in 2017 he has enjoyed success at this event, but far more often he’s struggled. Will he continue his impressive run of racing from the last year that included a second-place finish in St. George? Or was his disappointing race in Dallas at the PTO US Open a sign that this might not be his year for another big day?
The man most expect to compete with Blummenfelt for the title in Kona is his countryman and training partner Gustav Iden. The two-time 70.3 world champion also won his Ironman debut, running away from Sanders over the final 10 km to win Ironman Florida. Look for him to mark all the moves his training partner makes on race day.
One man who continues to be under the radar of many triathlon fans (and absolutely shouldn’t be) is New Zealand’s Braden Currie, who came oh-so-close to earning that runner-up finish in St. George – Sanders outsprinted the Kiwi in the last few hundred metres. One can only imagine how motivated Currie is to move up a spot or two on the podium this year.
Two-time Kona champ Patrick Lange is another to keep an eye on. His cycling has improved dramatically over the last few years, a necessity if he is to utilize his incredible run talent to get him to the front of the race again. This year it just feels like the all around talent of the athletes in this field means that Lange will have to stay within a few minutes of the lead into T2 to be able to take the win.
There are certainly lots of other men who can be in the mix for the title if they’re having a good day – Tim O’Donnell appears to be in great form and would dearly love to match his podium finish from 2019, for example. Joe Skipper has been racing up a storm of late, too, and has also done well on the Big Island in year’s past. Can Magnus Ditlev put together a performance like the one he had in Roth earlier this year? If so, he’ll be in the mix into the marathon, too.
The bottom line is that this will be an exciting day of racing in Kona. Yes, it always is, but seldom have we come into Kona with so many interesting possibilities for a men’s champion. Let the fun begin.
We arrive on the Big Island tomorrow – stay tuned for lots more coverage from Hawaii.