5. Andy Potts, 39, USA
Triathlon brand TYR retailed a new wetsuit with an eye-watering $1,200 price-tag in 2012. It was called the Freak Of Nature, which in swimming terms could equally be applied to its top-sponsored triathlete, Potts. If the American wants to be first out of the water in Kona – and a sizable bonus from TYR should focus the mind – he will be.
Jan Frodeno or Harry Wiltshire may decide to up the ante as they approach the pier, but Potts, who finished fourth in the US trials for the individual medley at the 1996 Olympics, can switch on the afterburners at will.
From there he typically disappears into a paceline, losing touch with the lead, before reappearing to run through the field on the marathon. The tactics have proved successful with two fourths in the past two years on the Big Island to add to an outstanding and oft-overlooked Ironman record.
Away from Hawaii, Potts has seven Ironman victories and has never been beaten over the full distance.
4. Andreas Raelert, 40, Germany
If we can question whether Raelert is the finest triathlete never to have won Kona, he’s beyond doubt the most prolific ‘nearly man’ on the Big Island.
Now 40, and having seen Jan Frodeno demolish the iron-distance record he set in Roth in 2011, the 2000 and 2004 Olympian isn’t yet ready to surrender all to the younger generation of triathletes moving to non-drafting.
Surprisingly for an athlete of such calibre, Raelert’s last Ironman win was over three years ago in Austria and the German would surpass Craig Alexander in 2011 as the oldest winner should he finally break the tape first.
Given the opposition, it’d be a monumental achievement. Last year’s runners-up spot was an unexpected triumph on the back of two barren years in 2013 (DNF) and 2014 (36th), before which he finished third (2009), second (2010), third (2011) and second (2012).
If his chances of picking up the largest ‘umeke have finally gone, then he’ll forever be remembered for the second ‘Iron War’ with Chris McCormack in 2010. A race finish reminiscent of the Dave Scott versus Mark Allen duel in 1989, where the Australian ultimately out-ran – and some might argue out-psyched – the genial Raelert.
3. Brent McMahon, 36, Canada
Got a good effort out of today with a less than ideal buildup but it will serve me well heading into Kona. The boys were faaaaaast today! Congrats to the podium @timboreed85 @sebastiankienle @ruediwild First class
Only Sebastian Kienle, Chris McCormack and Marino Vanhoenacker have chalked up more sub-8hr finishes than McMahon. And the Canadian would have joined them on four apiece had he finished 58secs faster at Ironman Arizona last year.
What’s more remarkable is the 36-year-old has thrice dipped under the hallowed mark in less than two years of racing long-course triathlon. Everything about McMahon screams raw speed. He stopped the clock at 7:55 to win on debut in Arizona in 2014, followed up with a 7:56 in Brazil last year and then went 10mins faster still on his return to Florianopolis in May.
A two-time Olympian who, at 5ft 9in and just 10 stone, is built to cope with the oppressive heat and humidity, McMahon was ninth here on his debut and everything points to him going far better in 2016.
2. Sebastian Kienle, 32, Germany
The 2014 Ironman world champion and two-time world 70.3 winner, Kienle will need to be at his brilliant best on the bike to have a sniff of regaining his title. The German’s first job is to limit his losses in the swim. From there he’ll be praying for gale-force conditions on the Queen K to make the bike leg as hard as possible and splinter the paceline that he’ll hope to reel in before the turn at Havi.
With the emergence of fleet-footed former ITU stars Jan Frodeno and Brent McMahon, Kienle understandably put more emphasis on his run last year, knowing he would have to run faster than the 2:54 that won him the Kona title in 2014.
Whether his bike leg suffered as a consequence is a moot point, but if so, then it certainly looked to be rectified in victory at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, where he posted an impressive 7:52hr finish.
Kienle’s form continued to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mooloolaba, where he narrowly lost out to Australian Tim Reed in a sprint finish. The slower the day, the better his chances, but even if there isn’t a breath of wind, expect Kienle to have some part to play.
1. Jan Frodeno, 35, Germany
The Ironman world champion, the iron-distance record holder, the only triathlete to have won both Olympic and Kona titles and in the prime of his long course career. It’s difficult to see how anyone can topple Jan Frodeno.
However, results on the Big Island don’t always run to form and the 6ft 4in German, who was raised in South Africa, has been defeated in 2016, even if there were strong mitigating factors.
That loss to USA’s Jesse Thomas at Ironman Lanzarote in May came off the back of an early season calf tear, was Frodeno’s ‘box-checking’ exercise for Kona and the powder was being kept dry for an assault on Challenge Roth two months later.
It was there he demolished Andreas Raelert’s world record of 7:41hr with a spellbinding solo effort (7:35) to mark him as a bona fide triathlon great. He fears no-one in the field and, come 8 October in the waters off Dig Me beach, this is unquestionably Frodeno’s race to lose.
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