It’s the annual pilgrimage to Hawaii for the world’s best long-course triathletes – and a big Aloha once again to the Ironman World Championship. This year’s men’s race is set to be hotter than the lava fields surrounding the Queen Kaʻahumanu highway.
It features a new world record holder and the man he displaced, who’s still valiantly trying to break his Kona duck aged 40. Then there’s the strongest British challenge in history and enough Germans to field a football team. 220 Triathlon columnist Tim Heming once again counts down his top 10 picks for the prize money...
10. Tim Don, 38, Great Britain
No-one in the field is more steeped in triathlon than the three-time Olympian and 2006 ITU world champion Don. Having been Boulder-based for the past few years he’s taken to long-course racing with the same impressive consistency that he used to race standard distance.
Don understands his challenge that, aged 38, his chances of cracking Kona are limited and he’s raced sparingly at the full distance to give himself the best chance. A debut win in Mallorca in late 2014 meant a Kona debut was his only Ironman in 2015, and while 15th place was a disappointment it provided plenty to learn from for this year.
A second at Ironman Brazil to Brent McMahon has been coupled with 70.3 wins in Palmas and Monterrey, and he heads to Hawaii hoping his run legs can deliver the sort of sub 2:45hr marathon that’ll be necessary if he’s to challenge at the sharp end of the race.
9. Cyril Viennot, 34, France
The European contingent number 35 of the 58 listed professional men (including 11 Germans) in Kona: so what makes Viennot stand out? Simply, his enduring consistency at Ironman races across the world.
In 16 starts at the full distance he’s been out of the top 10 just three times, all in Hawaii, and still commendable performances: 15th (2011), 18th (2012) and 12th (2013). Having served his apprenticeship in the lava fields, he’s since finished fifth (2014) and sixth (2015) and warmed up for the world championship by finishing runner-up to countryman Sylvain Sudrie in the ITU Long Distance World Championship on 24 September.
His only Ironman win came in Bolton in 2014 and he narrowly missed a first sub-8hr performance in Roth this summer where he showed decent run form with a 2:45hr marathon. Don’t expect much fanfare for the Frenchman, but a polished performance that lands a pay cheque for the long flight home.
8. Joe Skipper, 28, Great Britain
The first British triathlete to break the 8hr mark for the iron-distance, if Skipper smashes through the run course in the same way he smashes through his go-to nutrition of peanut butter, this could be another triumph for the no-frills East Anglia boy.
Skipper nearly quit life as a cash-strapped professional last year before being reinvigorated by finishing runner-up in Texas and qualifying for Hawaii. Having placed 13th on debut last year, he’ll be eyeing a pay cheque this time and while the temperate climes of Roth are a far cry from the lava fields of the Big Island, a 2:38 marathon off the bike – the fastest in the world this year – is still a performance to earn respect.
Skipper also says the confidence of performing in the humidity of Texas last year has put him in good stead and he’s refreshingly vocal to 220 about his ambition to finish in the top five.
7. David McNamee, 28, Great Britain
The British male contingent in Hawaii this year is arguably the strongest yet and there’s the potential that Tim Don, Will Clarke, Joe Skipper or Harry Wiltshire could be so close along Ali’i Drive, you could throw a blanket over them. But the pick of the lot could be Scotsman David McNamee.
Being a British triathlete born in 1988 isn’t conducive to short-course success unless your surname is Brownlee, so realising there was little chance of Olympic selection, the Commonwealth Games sixth-placed finisher turned his attention to non-drafting at the start of last year.
An accomplished debut season saw McNamee win Ironman UK in Bolton ahead of training partner Fraser Cartmell and Britain’s Joe Skipper. He also posted the fastest run split in Hawaii in 2015, finishing eleventh despite picking up a drafting penalty on the bike.
Renowned for his solid pacing, as the field wilts in the latter stages of the run expect McNamee (who’s had the backing of pro tri team BMC-Etixx in 2016) to power through the Energy Lab and light up Ali’i Drive.
6. Timothy O’Donnell, 36, USA
Once last long run here in Boulder before heading to Kona. In honor of @mirindacarfrae and @sirilindley I too am posting a slow mo run video :) @newtonrunning @garminfitness @clifbarcompany @yurbuds @smithoptics @ecfitboulder
It’s understandable that O’Donnell’s achievements have been overshadowed by those of his wife, Mirinda Carfrae, whose three Kona titles, course record and phenomenal running ability, make her one of the greatest Hawaii performers of all time.
But last year was the time to shine for the former US navy officer who finished fourth and first American – holding off Andy Potts by 2:35mins – as Carfrae’s race ended on the Queen K.
O’Donnell hasn’t set the triathlon world alight in 2016. An early season 70.3 win in Puerto Rico was the highlight as he jogged to a 9:12 finish at Ironman Frankfurt to validate his Kona slot.
He has pedigree on the Big Island, though, finishing eighth in 2012 and fifth in 2013, and aligned to the single-minded focus of his spouse, there’s little question of O’Donnell’s preparation being spot on.