Ironman World Champ predictions: who will be king of Kona?
The best long-distance triathletes in the world are descending once again on Hawaii for the Ironman World Championships, but who will be high-fiving along Ali’i Drive and supping from the largest umeke bowl on Saturday 14 October? 220 columnist Tim Heming counts down his top 10 men’s predictions.
5. Patrik Nilsson, 26, Sweden
The youngest man on the professional start-list could conceivably be the most fleet-footed by the time afternoon falls on the Big Island. While history suggests most athletes struggle on debut, the 26-year-old Swedish rookie will be looking no further than training partner Patrick Lange for a blueprint on how to tackle the race. Last year was Lange’s first start and he delivered a fearless breakthrough performance to finish third.
As they conclude their training in Texas, the two will be planning to spur one another to even greater heights, and this season’s results suggest Nilsson could be a serious podium contender. He ran 2:40hr to finish third behind Sebastian Kienle in 7:50hrs at Ironman Frankfurt, just a minute slower than his time in winning Ironman Copenhagen last year. With previous Ironman successes at Malaysia (2014), Sweden (2015), and Barcelona last autumn, the BMC-Etixx Pro Triathlon Team ace has little issue seizing the nettle when it comes to winning and could be charging, ala Lange last year, by the time the race reaches the business end.
4. Patrick Lange, 31, Germany
The German seemed to fly into contention from nowhere last year to claim third place and break Mark Allen’s 27-year-old run course record with a 2:39:45 marathon. What was equally impressive was his jump in position from 23rd arriving in T2 - and it was on debut. Whether the drafting penalty Lange picked up on the bike hindered him, or gave him the breather he needed for such an explosive run is a moot point, but what’s certain is that all eyes will be watching for how far back he is at the start of the run this time around.
His novice status is mitigated by training under 2005 winner Faris Al-Sultan, and alongside last year’s Kona seventh-place finisher Boris Stein and the speedy Swede Patrik Nilsson. He also missed the first three months of the season with a foot injury, but returned to place sixth at Ironman Frankfurt with a 2hr 49min marathon. A recent win at 70.3 Reugen in 3:43hr suggests the early season layoff could be leading him to peak at exactly the right time for Hawaii.
3. Ben Hoffman, 34, USA
It’s been 15 years since an American won in Hawaii and, while Chris Lieto led until the final miles in 2009, and both Tim O’Donnell and Andy Potts have shown consistency over the past decade, Hoffman can claim to have come as close as any of them. If it was a shock when the US triathlete finished runner-up to Sebastian Kienle in 2014, Hoffman proved it was no one-off with fourth place last year and then clinched an automatic qualification slot for 2017 by clocking a course record 7:58hr in Port Elizabeth to win the Ironman African Championship.
A lifestyle change for 2017 saw Hoffman marry in May and then set off in an Airstream camper van to find some inspirational new training spots in California, Bend, Montana and Wyoming. He returns to Hawaii for an eighth time with renewed vigour and the confidence of knowing he can compete for another podium spot.
2. Sebastian Kienle, 33, Germany
Unlike his great rival and countryman Jan Frodeno, Kienle has been racking up the races – and the podiums – in 2017. The 2014 Kona champion topped the Ironman qualifying system (KPR) with 14,985 points, including a victory at Ironman Frankfurt where he became the first man to win the Ironman European Championship for a third time – in a blisteringly fast 7:41hr. There were wins at 70.3 Kraichgau in Germany, a third at 70.3 St. George in Utah where Britain’s Alistair Brownlee dominated, and a runner-up spot in the inaugural Challenge Half Championship event in Samorin, Slovakia, where took revenge, of sorts, on the Yorkshireman who DNF’d on the run.
The German is renowned for his biking prowess and it shows no sign of waning after he posted the fastest bike split at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga. His relative weak swim costs him over the middle distance, but at Kona, Kienle seems to enjoy forging his way to the front of the race where he hopes for windy conditions to split the field apart and enable him to open up a buffer into T2. Despite his familiarity with Hawaii, Kienle is still only 33 years old and will be hoping he’s still improving. If so, he might once again be back on the top spot.
1. Jan Frodeno, 36, Germany
Let’s be straight, while a close encounter brings drama, it's more likely that Frodeno rewrites the record books than is beaten on the Big Island this year. The 2008 Olympic champion has raced sparingly in 2017 but cruised to victory by 15min over Spanish veteran Eneko Llanos at a relatively low-key Ironman Austria to validate his slot. A further win at 70.3 Barcelona leaves him fresh to try and become the first man since Mark Allen to win three times in a row, and few would back against him. Frodeno took over eight minutes off his 2015 mark in winning last year and if he does the same again he’ll become the first man to dip below eight hours in Hawaii and cement his reputation as one of the finest triathletes to have ever graced the island.
220 named Jan Frodeno 11th greatest Kona athlete of all time - will a third win see him rise higher?