If the women’s race at the Ironman World Championship showed us that we’re embarking on a new era of racing in Kona (rookie champion, a women’s only day of racing and much more), the men’s race signalled even more of a major change. The first four men across the line were Kona rookies, and all of them shattered Jan Frodeno’s course record.
That was all wrapped up in style at the men’s press conference. Here are some of the insights we learned from that:
The Norwegians have changed the sport
Yeah, we knew that already. But, as Mark Allen pointed out in our post-race “The Life of Tri Podcast,” Gustav Iden and Kristian Blummenfelt, under the guidance of their coach Olav Aleksander Bu, have compressed the learning curve for success in Kona to a few years.
As Lionel Sanders pointed out leading into the race, everyone was expecting one of the Norwegians to win the race. Before 2022, that would have been unheard of in Kona, as experience always played a huge factor in the race.
Those times are changing. As if following the Norwegian lead, other athletes embraced Kona and arrived on the Island with visions of the win – most notably Sam Laidlow and Max Neumann, who finished second and fourth.
Sebastian Kienle is a class act
In his last professional race in Kona, the 2014 Ironman world champion went out in style, finishing sixth in a blazing 7:55.
“I had my fastest time and the race was 15 minutes ahead of me,” the German said. “I like to see that – it is a good time to retire. When I made the announcement (that this would be his last Kona), I said I wanted to try and win another title. At that time, it seemed possible. If everything went right, there was still a chance. The sport has developed so much in the last two and a half years that before the race I didn’t think I would make the post-race press conference.”
In theory Kienle didn’t make the post-race presser, which is usually reserved for the top five in the race. Ironman officials wanted to celebrate his great performance and his contribution to the sport and invited him. It was a class move for a class athlete.
What they learned from the women’s race
Ironman took questions from its social media channels, and one of those addressed the fact that the men got the advantage of seeing how the women fared on Thursday. All six of the men at the press conference said that after watching the women’s race (and hearing their experiences), they were all even more careful to make sure they took advantage of the aid stations. Because of a shortage of volunteers, the aid stations were a bit further apart than in years past (there was 2.4 km between stations on the run course).
“I was extra careful with drinking,” Kienle said. “The distance between aid stations made a difference.”
Max Neumann is the real deal
The man from down under has enjoyed more than a bit of success at Ironman events in the Asia-Pacific region, but he’s not as well known in the Northern Hemisphere. That should all definitely change now thanks to Neumann’s 7:44:44 fourth-place finish. Even more important than that, the Aussie was one of the most aggressive racers on the day.
“I think (Sam) Laidlow’s and Gustav’s were amongst the best performances we’ve ever seen,” Neumann said. “The sport is changing and I’m proud to be part of it.”
Kona is not easy
While the men enjoyed faster conditions than the women – a tailwind coming back along the Queen K and a bit more cloud cover at the start of the run – the day was still brutal. Kristian Blummenfelt collapsed at the finish line after his third-place finish and was rushed off to the medical tent. The man who pushed him to the limit, Max Neumann, also pushed himself to the limit.
“I lost 5 kg of water during the race,” Neumann said. “I ended up needing two litres of IV.”
Kristian Blummenfelt is actually human
Yes, we saw him struggle a bit on the run at the PTO Canadian Open in Edmonton earlier this year, but that’s pretty much the only time the guy has seemed anything but unbeatable. He won Ironman St. George despite being sick, nailed the Sub7 challenge and was the fastest man of the day at the Collins Cup.
Running down into the famed Energy Lab and back along the Queen K highway was a bit much for the Olympic gold medalist, though, who couldn’t match the pace of his training partner and countryman Gustav Iden.
“Gustav was running quite fast from the beginning,” Blummenfelt said. “Every time he would force me to the front I would slow it down. My only chance was to play my cards really well, but it didn’t work out.”
Sam Laidlow is much more than a loudmouth from the Collins Cup
Even though he has enjoyed some success over the full distance (in 2021 he was in front of Joe Skipper until the closing stages of Ironman UK), France’s Sam Laidlow wasn’t high on many people’s lists as a potential winner.
The Frenchman ripped through a new bike course record (4:04) after being one of the first out of the water and rounding out his day with a great marathon.
“It was a good day to have a good day,” Laidlow said. “It was opposite to the Collins Cup. On the bike I had my highest power by by 15 to 20 watts. I had my fastest run by five or six minutes.”
Scarily enough, Laidlow had to hold himself back at times on the bike.
“We had a tail wind and I kept having to hold myself back,” he said of the last part of the ride.
Laidlow attributes part of that great ride to an improved position.
“I had a dialled in position,” he noted. “I got onto a frame that was finally the correct size just three days before the race.”
It all played out to perfection for the 24-year-old, who has now engendered himself to triathlon fans as an athlete who can do much more than get under Sam Long’s skin.
Gustav Iden is an even better champion than we thought
The two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion had proven that he is both a class act and a worthy champion long before he arrived in Kona, but he took things to a new level on the Big Island.
Iden is confident without being cocky – “We had never planned not to win here.” But, most importantly, he brings out the best in his competition and celebrates their achievements. He respects them, and they respect him. As he passed Sam Laidlow to move into the lead, the two shared a hand shake.
“I think I said ‘I’m proud of you,’” Iden said when asked what he said to Laidlow as he moved into the lead. “Sam is good for the sport. He got a lot of hate at the Collins Cup, and that didn’t reflect on his performance.”
“If I was to lose to anybody, it would be Gustav,” Laidlow said. “I don’t think you can put words on the respect we have as athletes.”