The 40th birthday of Ironman was always going to be a special race, and so it proved with the Kona debut of Javier Gomez, course records broken, emotional stories of redemption and some heavyweights showdowns between the world's greatest long-course athletes.
Grabbing the headlines in the men's elite event was Patrick Lange, who broke the Ali'i Drive finish line tape in 7:52:39 to become the Ironman World Champion for the second time. Following the German home was Belgium's Bart Aernouts in second and David McNamee of Scotland, who ran in his way to third in 8:01:09.
Brit Joe Skipper would come home in seventh, while Javier Gomez was 11th on debut in Hawaii. Tim Don, after his horrific bike crash just over a year ago, crossed the line in 36th in tear-jerking scenes.
Not since the multiple Ironman world champ Chrissie Wellington went toe-to-toe with Julie Dibens, Rachel Joyce and Leanda Cave in 2011 have British elite athletes received some much focus in Kona (head here for the women's report featuring Lucy Charles).
In the men’s race, Scotland’s David McNamee was hoping to go even better than in 2017, when his third-placed finish was the best British male placing in Kona history. East Anglia’s Joe Skipper – second behind Jan Frodeno at Challenge Roth in 2016 – was also vying for his first top 10 finish in Hawaii, and there was the emotional appearance of Tim Don in the starting field, following a severe crash ahead of the 2017 edition of Hawaii.
Elsewhere on the starting pontoon was the five-time ITU World Champion, Javier Gomez, making his Kona racing debut, the reigning champion Patrick Lange, former winner Sebastian Kienle, and a Jan Frodeno-shaped hole after the two-time Kona champ pulled out ahead of the race.
In relatively cool and calm conditions for Kona, the men’s event saw Aussie athlete Josh Amberger first out of the water, closely followed by France’s Denis Chevrot. Gomez came out in 5th after 47:46mins and David McNamee was in 13th, 1:52mins down after a time of 49:31mins. Don would exit Kailua Bay in 50:34, 20th pro man overall
Some big names were already 2-3mins in arrears, including the reigning champion Patrick Lange and 2014 winner Sebastian Kienle. The 2017 second-place finisher and uber-biker Lionel Sanders was a further 3mins back.
Onto the bike, and the major early news was that Kienle had suffered a puncture and was riding with a replacement wheel. But the German star had moved up to 14th by halfway through the 180km bike leg, with the field being led by biking powerhouses Andrew Starykowicz (USA) and Australia’s Cameron Wurf. Gomez was in ninth, Lange tenth, while the Brits of McNamee, Skipper, Don and Will Clarke were riding in proximity to each other in around 20th place.
Approaching transition two and Wurf’s bike course record of 4:12:54 from 2017 was in jeopardy, and the Australian would once again enter the Hawaii record books after a 4:09:36 split.
Lange would enter T2 around 6mins back, with Gomez 8mins behind, and both in serious contention to see their run prowess move them to the front of the race. Kienle, meanwhile, would quit in T2.
THE 8HR BARRIER
With the 40 years of Ironman in Hawaii being celebrated in the build-up to the race, it was apt that major landmarks in the sport’s history would be broken in 2018. And that was the men’s course record and the magical eight hour barrier in Hawaii, a time that had eluded such greats as Mark Allen, Dave Scott, Craig Alexander and Jan Frodeno in Kona history.
Lange, who we interviewed earlier in the year about the sub-8hr record, moved to second almost instantly and was in control of the chase group on Cameron Wurf. He made the pass after 15km and gave Wurf a classy fist bump on the way, before taking off at 6min/mile pace to deliver a 2:41:32 marathon run that kicked the course record into touch. His 7:52:39 finish time was nearly 10mins faster than his 2017 course record of 8:01:40, and was scarily only his sixth-ever full Ironman race.
Aernouts was next home in 7:56:41 to become the second man to dip under 8hrs in Hawaii, while McNamee was third in 8:01:09, which itself was the third-fastest Hawaii time in history. Skipper was seventh in 8:05:54.