Could 2019 see another Iron War at Kona?
30 years ago the greatest Ironman race ever took place at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, and, quite frankly, it’s high time for a repeat, says columnist Tim Heming
It’s 30 years since 220 Triathlon first hit the shelves and almost three decades since we witnessed the greatest Ironman race in history. The Iron War of 1989 has gone down in endurance sport folklore as an iconic tussle between two triathlon icons on triathlon’s iconic stage. Iconic? You betcha. Author Matt Fitzgerald’s even devoted an eponymously-titled book to it, and we named it the greatest Ironman world champ moment ever
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It also witnessed the changing of the guard at the Ironman World Championship. American Dave Scott, the six-time champion and resilient to the last, against his immeasurably talented yet seemingly flawed compatriot Mark Allen, whose previous attempts to crack the Big Island had only exposed his own fragility. Until Allen finally broke Scott’s resistance less than two miles from the finish, there was barely a gel wrapper between them the entire day.
It’s the elite race that has arguably done more than any other to market Ironman to future generations, and as the years pass its stock only rises. Allen’s winning time was a course record by 19mins and it took until 2016 for Germany’s Patrick Lange to finally beat his 2:40:04 marathon.
But another Iron War is long overdue. Yes, in the intervening years we’ve had epic races. Monstrous leads have been hunted down, such as Allen reeling in Thomas Hellriegel in 1995 or Mirinda Carfrae catching Daniela Ryf in 2014. There have been front-runners hanging on, meltdowns just shy of the finish, and utter domination by Chrissie Wellington and, more latterly, Ryf.
But the closest we’ve had to a mano a mano contest was Chris McCormack versus Andreas Raelert in 2010, where the Australian outfoxed his opponent for a second triumph.
Could 2019 be the year? The German showdown of Jan Frodeno v Patrick Lange – scuppered last year after Frodeno’s injury – could be on. While Frodeno was the dominant force in Ironman Frankfurt in June, history tells us that it’s only in Hawaii that Lange really hits his stride. Could Alistair Brownlee play a role? Trying to read much into Brownlee’s win in Ironman Ireland in June is folly. Everything, including fitness levels, will be different come October. History also dictates that you have to pay your dues in Hawaii – no male has won there on debut since 1996.
Perhaps for our next Iron War, we should instead turn attention to a rivalry that could blossom to be as exalted as Scott v Allen. Switzerland’s reigning Kona champ Daniela Ryf has won the past four titles – only Allen has won five consecutively. But Lucy Charles-Barclay has been runner-up for the last two and is improving year-on-year. The two tend to avoid each other outside of world championships. As Ryf won in Ironman Austria in July, Charles-Barclay was taking the tape in Challenge Roth. Both remain unbeaten at Ironman distance in 2019. The race dynamic in Hawaii has seen Charles-Barclay overtaken later on the bike leg each time. If they arrive in T2 together then coupled with Charles increasing leg speed then three decades on from 220 reporting on the original Iron War, we could be reflecting on the sequel.