Can Braden Currie become the first man from New Zealand to win in Kona?
New Zealand’s Braden Currie arrives on the Big Island as a contender for the winPhoto by: Kevin Mackinnon
It hardly should have been a surprise, but quite a few triathlon fans were trying to figure out exactly who it was who had blasted through the bike course and continued to lead well into the run at the Ironman World Championship in St. George last May. They shouldn’t have been surprised, though – New Zealand’s Braden Currie has been on a steady track towards the top of the sport for years. Now the question is, can he achieve the top spot on the podium and surpass the amazing feats of his countryman Cameron Brown? (Brown took second in 2001 and 2005, third in 2003 and 2004, fifth in 2008 and eighth in 2006.)
As he embarked on a professional triathlon career in 2013, Currie was renowned as one of his country’s premier multisport athletes – not multisport as in swim, bike and run, but rather kayak, bike and run. He finished third in his first Coast to Coast race (240 km of kayaking, biking and running across New Zealand’s South Island) and would go on to win the prestigious event four times between 2013 and 2016. Adding to the “cross country” mix, he took fifth and second at the Xterra World Championship in 2013 and 2015, too.
In 2015 he won Ironman 70.3 Taupo, then two years later made his Ironman debut with a huge win over 12-time champ Cameron Brown, signalling his arrival at the highest levels of the sport. A year later he beat Javier Gomez at the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Cairns, Australia, then finished fifth in Kona. He won the Asia-Pacific Championship again a year later and followed that up with a fifth-place finish in Kona, dramatically improving on his 31st-place finish from the year before. In 2019 he took a third straight Asia-Pacific Ironman championship, then followed that up with a seventh in Kona. In 2021 he won Ironman New Zealand again. Earlier this year he returned to his Coast to Coast roots with another win at that event in January, before turning his sights on triathlon racing again.
In May, as the world finally saw a full-distance world championship finally take place in St. George, he put together that dramatic third-place finish. As if leading for as long as he did wasn’t enough, he was caught in the final few hundred metres of the run by Lionel Sanders. Now he arrives in Kona as an athlete many consider as a contender for another podium finish.
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“For me it’s just been progression all along, I always like to take steps forward not backwards, so I’m really excited to be back on the world stage and to have a second shot at the world title within the year,” Currie said. “Utah was a great result for me and really big step forward in a lot of ways within my racing on a world platform.”
As he prepares for his fourth trip to the Big Island, Currie is all too aware of the challenges he’ll face.
“I think Kona’s just an incredible beast in its own way, it’s renowned as one of the toughest Ironman races you can do around the world. Just so many factors, the course itself, the environment, it’s so hot out there. A 3.8 km swim in open water, really warm, the water is about 27, 28 degrees, that kicks things off. The bike ride is renowned for its winds, some incredibly strong crosswinds and some really strong tailwinds, and then the last 40 kilometers are generally into a strong headwind, so there’s no real free speed out on this course, you’re always fighting something the whole way.”
“I think the biggest factor I’ve always noticed on this course is the returning on the bike course where you’re in about 140 km and you’ve got 40 km to go, and it turns into a big lava field of black rock and you can just feel this 35, 40 degree heat just penetrating off the lava fields and the heat coming back at you and you just want cold,” he continued. “You just want to feel some freshness at that point in time but there’s really no give in and you slowly feel your core temperature, your body temperature starting to rise, but I guess that’s part of the challenge, finding that limit where you can keep going and keep racing but no go over it.”
After his big day in St. George, Currie took second at this year’s Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship. Now he’s ready to take on the challenge that hasn’t yet been achieved by a New Zealand male – a win in Kona.
“I like the challenging environment that this place puts on so I’m excited to be there,” Currie said. “I think also, we haven’t had a Kiwi male ever be on the top of the podium at this event so if I can step up a step or two then I’ll be pretty stoked.”