When you look at the Kona Ironman World Championship professional start list, it’s staggering the pure quality of the athletes that are going to toe the line on Saturday. Jacobs, Kienle, Llanos, Raelert, Alexander, Van Lierde, O’Donnell, Docherty, Al-Sultan, Rapp, Potts, Bell and McKenzie are all legitimate threats to take the crown on the men’s side. On the women’s side you have Cave, Steffen, Crawford, Kessler, Wurtele, Carfrae, Corbin, Stevens, Snow, Joyce, Van Vlerken and Tajsich are completely capable of taking the win.
Photo Credit: Ironman.com
When the Ironman was conceived in 1978, it was the product of a bet between swimmers, bikers and runners about who the ultimate endurance athlete. Gordon Haller won the race in a time of 11 hours and 46 minutes. Needless to say, times have changed since the era when athletes would stop at McDonalds on the Queen Kaʻahumanu highway to eat. The men champions now win in a little under eight and a half hours.
This year’s professional list is an incredible list, arguably the best in the history of the sport. In my mind there are top five contenders in both the men and the women professional races.
On the men’s side the top five will play out something like this;
- Sebastian Kienle
- Craig Alexander
- Andrew Starykowicz
- Faris Al-Sultan
- Bevan Docherty
For the women;
- Mirinda Carfrae
- Sonja Tajsich
- Leanda Cave
- Caroline Steffen
- Heather Wurtele
Now, there’s a few somewhat debatable picks in here. Let me go through the results of each of the top five from this year.
5. Bevan Docherty’s performance this season has been up and down, from an overall win in Boise and a very impressive win in his native New Zealand at the Ironman, to a DNF at the 70.3 World Champs last month. Docherty is a long time triathlete and I have little doubt his first Kona will be one of the most successful rookie performances we’ve ever seen.
4. Faris Al-Sultan is being heralded as many as a serious threat at the overall title. He’s a former champion and knows how to get the best out of himself in Kona. However ever since his win in 2006, he has been unable to recapture the throne. He had a very impressive win at the difficult Ironman Lanzarote and I think he’ll fall just short of the podium behind some slightly stronger cyclists.
3. Andrew Starykowicz posted a four hour bike at Ironman Florida a few years ago and is arguably an even stronger cyclist than Kienle. I expect him to work closely with Kienle on the bike and push the pace, I think that Kienle will hold him off but Starykowicz will still finish on the podium in his Kona Debut.
2. Craig Alexander doesn’t even need to be defended. The man is unlike any other Ironman athlete in the world. He was handed a brutal defeat last year and under performed at the 70.3 World Champs last month. I expect him to do everything in his power to regain the Crown and who am I kidding, I’m a huge Crowie fan and hoping he can go out on top.
1. Sebastian Kienle has had nothing short of a lacklustre season up until he showed up in Nevada last month for the 70.3 World Championships. However, when he raced in Vegas, it wasn’t even close, he demolished his competition and made it look simple. It can definitely be argued that he could have won the title last year if it hadn’t been for his flat tire. He’ll pound it on the bike and hold them off on the run to take his first Ironman World Championship
Notable Omission: I’m taking a gamble by omitting Pete Jacobs, but I think that the pressure of being the reigning World Champ can get to the best in the world and Pete will be no exception. I expect he’ll finish in the top 10, but will fail to defend.
5. Heather Wurtele, as a Canadian, the idea of Wurtele coming in the top five is something I get giddy about. I think she has had a great season and is poised to crack the top five on the big island.
4. Caroline Steffen has experienced nothing but disappointment at the World Championships and I think that this year will be no different. She is a phenomenal cyclist but every year blows up during the run. In my mind she has become the female equivalent of Chris Lieto in Kona. She has been unable to seal the deal and I don’t believe this year will be any different.
3. Leanda Cave is the reigning World Champion and is a phenomenal athlete but this year has been less than ideal for her with disappointing results in San Juan, St-George and last month in Vegas. I don’t believe that she doesn’t have the possibility to win, but similar to Jacobs, I believe she’ll fall short.
2. Sonja Tajsich is relatively unknown in North America but has some extremely impressive results to her name, three Ironman wins and fourth overall at the World Champs last year. She’s a phenomenal cyclist and she has a history of being a great runner, all be it at the short course distance. She’ll be better prepared for the heat and I think she’ll come just short of beating the woman I’ve picked for the win.
1. Mirinda Carfrae. Similar to Crowie, Rinny is an athlete who will continually change he approach. Since her World Championship in 2010, Rinny has had a huge run of bad luck at this race. I’m of the opinion that she’s taken a different approach to this year and that she’ll be poised to retake the title.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Mary Beth Ellis, who, just a month ago, broke her collarbone. When she comes to the line on Saturday she’ll solidify her place as one of the most impressive Ironman athletes in the world.
Now, I’ve glazed over who I think will place top five, but I have to be perfectly honest that literally anything can happen. You can lose a water bottle and miss the mental math on how much you need to pick up to replace it, you can simply have an off day. But, assuming everyone has a level playing field, this is how I see the race playing out. If you’ve never watch the race, I’d recommend you tune in at least a bit to listen to the live commentary and to get a sense of the sheer amount of tactics that go in to a race like this. I think that it’ll be an incredibly exciting race and I hope you can enjoy it with me! I’ll be live blogging the whole event, from the cannon going off all the way to the end of the top five in both pro categories. Who do YOU think will be the new champs? Let me know in the comment section below or on Twitter!
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