We continue our look at the top ten men likely to win be in with a chance of winning Kona this year...
7. Bart Aernouts, 30, Belgium
There are few guarantees with Kona, but one is that Aernouts will finish the run in a higher position than he starts it. One of the world’s finest duathletes, the Belgian just needs to improve his swimming enough to have a puncher’s chance.
After running the fastest marathon in Kona in 2012, last year he again set a race-best (2:44) to finish eighth, but had dropped over six minutes in the water and a further 14 minutes on the bike to eventual champion Frederick van Lierde and left T2 in 23rd.
There are signs the swimming is improving as he swept to victory in the 70.3 European Championships, and the omen of winning in Nice – as Van Lierde did last year – has to be a good one. But the warm waters of the Pacific mean there’ll be no neoprene assistance and if he swims over 57 minutes like last year there will be just too many good athletes ahead to run down.
6. Bevan Docherty, 37, New Zealand
Few could blame the Kiwi if he’d had a belly-full of long course triathlon and headed into retirement. With two Olympic medals and an outstanding short course career, it has not been swim, bike and run, but gastrointestinal issues that have caused the upset when trying to step up in distance after 2012.
It started well, with a crushing home win in Ironman New Zealand in 2013 when he saw off 10-time champion Cameron Brown, but then followed DNFs at Hawaii, Panama and then Taupo, which put Docherty’s qualification for this year in jeopardy.
A ninth place at Ironman 70.3 St George in July showed he was at least back on the right track, and a fortnight later he took victory at Ironman Texas with a 2:49 marathon. With a sense of this race being boom or bust, Docherty, who never lacks belief in his own ability, must now literally prove he has the stomach for the fight.
5. Jan Frodeno, 33, Germany
The 6ft 4” German is preparing to debunk the myth that male triathletes simply do not win on debut in Hawaii. If the stomach and sinew play ball there will no more dangerous athlete on the start-line and it’s a real possibility that Frodeno could be first to win both Olympic gold and the Ironman world championships.
Despite being just 33 and having a couple of years to build through 70.3 racing, Frodeno has wasted no time in shooting straight for the Big Island – stating that after fulfilling his Olympic ambitions in Beijing it’s the only race left to excite him.
With speed in abundance across all three disciplines, Frodeno posted a race-best 2:43 marathon to come third on debut at Ironman Frankfurt despite pulling up with cramps on multiple occasions, and was also the only athlete able to live with Javier Gomez’s electric pace in the 70.3 World Championships in September.
So Kona poses few fears, which could be his only handicap, because the Big Island has a well-worn habit of biting the real big hitters in the butt.
4. Tim O’Donnell, 34, USA
Few contenders should be treading water off Dig Me beach feeling fresher than O’Donnell. The American former naval officer finished fifth last year and the points gained allowed him to play the tactical game by easing round Ironman Florida just weeks later with then-fiancee Mirinda Carfrae to punch the Kona ticket.
He’s raced a handful of 70.3 and shorter events since, winning in St Croix, but probably the sharpest he’s had to move was to keep pace with his new bride for their first dance in December. Not only has O’Donnell acquired the keys to wedded bliss but also pillow talk from his two-time world champion spouse focused on how to unlock victory in Hawaii.
No American has won this race since Tim DeBoom in 2002, and O’Donnell’s only weakness might be the bike leg if, or more likely, when, the pace really hots up. Even if it does, he’s still an outside chance and certainly USA’s number one threat.
Click here to find out who our number one prediction is for Kona