Jan Frodeno: Background, career highlights, quotes
Is Jan Frodeno the greatest triathlete of all time? That's up to you to decide, but here, we take a look back at his illustrious career
Simply the best? There are plenty that believe Jan Frodeno is the greatest triathlete to have ever trod the Earth.
With Olympic gold, three Ironman world titles and a string of record-breaking performances, it’s quite hard to argue against the suggestion…
Who is Jan Frodeno?
Born in Germany but raised in South Africa, Jan Frodeno has, over the past 15 years, put himself in serious contention for being named the greatest triathlete of all time. But it wasn’t always that way.
He was a useful if not dominating competitor on the ITU circuit until the day his life changed in 2008, the day he stunned both spectators and athletes alike by taking the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. Just where had that performance come from?
Since that day in the Chinese capital, Frodeno has steadily grown in stature. A pair of fourth-placed overall finishes in the World Triathlon Series followed, but it was when the German switched up to Ironman and Ironman 70.3 that records started tumbling and titles fell from the sky.
In 2015, he won the first of three Ironman world titles to sit alongside the world 70.3 victory secured earlier in the season. He secured this hat-trick of Kona crowns in 2019 in a performance that set a new course record in Hawaii.
Another record followed in 2021 when, as part of a specially staged two-man race against the Canadian Lionel Sanders, Frodeno set what was then the fastest full-distance time ever recorded, dipping below the seven-hour, thirty-minute barrier.
He might now be on the dark side of 40 but, for now, Jan Frodeno reigns supreme. When it comes to going long, everyone else is still playing catch-up.
How old is Jan Frodeno?
Jan Frodeno was born on 18 August 1981, making him 40 years of age.
Jan Frodeno’s career highlights
May 2004: World U23 silver puts Frodeno on the right track
Frodeno takes his first step onto a world championship podium when he takes silver at the U23 worlds at Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira.
September 2005: Bronze marks his true arrival within the elite corps
A first top-three placing in the elite ITU World Cup arrives when Frodeno comes third in Beijing. In fewer than three years, a return to the Chinese capital will give the German his career highlight.
November 2006: Team effort secures world silver
As part of Germany’s men’s relay squad at the world championships in Cancun, Frodeno and his compatriots capture silver medals.
August 2008: Triathlon world is shocked as Frodeno grabs Olympic gold
“Who is Jan Frodeno?” asks the front cover of 220 after the Beijing Olympics. It’s a perfectly justified question. Having never won a single ITU World Cup race, Frodeno outsprints Canada’s Simon Whitfield, Olympic champion eight years earlier, to take a shock victory.
Third-placed New Zealand’s Sean Docherty, silver medallist in Athens in 2004, is another scalp, as is the pre-race favourite, the Spaniard Javier Gomez, who finishes out of the medals in fourth.
August 2009: A maiden World Triathlon Series victory
Frodeno notches his first win in the brand-new ITU World Triathlon Series (WTS), the season-long competition brought in to decide the world champion. He finishes fourth overall in the series, a placing he repeats the following year.
However, in 2010, it could have been so much more. Only needing to finish fourth or higher in the Grand Final in Budapest to be crowned world champion, injury means he trails home 41st, handing the title to Gomez.
January 2014: Frodeno moves on up smoothly and successfully
After a few more solid if unspectacular seasons in WTS racing, Frodeno switches up in distance. Having not finished at the Ironman 70.3 world championships the previous year, Frodeno wins the first Ironman 70.3 race of the new season – New Zealand – before also registering victories in California and St George.
September 2014: Medals galore as Ironman rep grows and grows
A silver at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship is bookended by full-distance bronzes in Germany and Kona.
October 2015: World-beater at both Ironman distances
A faultless year for Frodeno – five races, five victories – culminates in gold in Kona to add to the 70.3 world crown earned two months previously in Austria.
October 2016: Germany dominate as Frodeno makes it two in a row
Three months on from victory on home turf at Challenge Roth, where he breaks the then iron-distance world record time, Frodeno successfully defends his Ironman world crown, with the Kona podium becoming the exclusive preserve of German athletes thanks to Sebastian Kienle’s silver and Patrick Lange’s bronze.
September 2018: Another middle-distance world crown
Three years on from his first triumph at the Ironman 70.3 world championships, Frodeno regains the title, holding off the challenges of two other ITU racers who’ve moved up distance-wise: Alistair Brownlee and Javier Gomez.
October 2019: The delayed third Kona title arrives
With injuries having denied him a third Kona crown in both 2017 and 2018, Frodeno finally bags his hat-trick of titles. Despite now being 38, he posts the fastest marathon of the day, in the process setting a new course record of 7:51:13.
July 2021: The record-smashing face-off
In Allgäu, in the foothills of the German Alps, the Zwift Tri Battle Royale pits Frodeno against Canada’s Lionel Sanders in a two-man shoot-out. But there’s only ever one man in it.
Sanders might post a personal best on the swim, but Frodeno is already five minutes ahead and ends the race having set a new full-distance world best of 7:27:53. For the Canadian, it’s an exercise in eating dust.
August 2020: Suffers infected hip injury
In an honest Instagram post, Frodeno shares he’s been struggling with a hip injury that just won’t heal and that he’s had to drop out of Kona 2022 Ironman World Championships. The long-distance legend also shares his plans for the future and whether retirement could be on the horizon.
Jan Frodeno in quotes
On that shock Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008: “I knew I had trained very well, but these guys who were with me at the front were really the big guys. I just tried to execute my own race. As Simon [Whitfield] went, I knew it was going to be tough. I just had to bite and fight.”
On his first Ironman title in 2015: “It was brutal. No shade at all. If you’re going uphill, your heart rate goes up and it just doesn’t come back down.”
On retirement: “I can’t do this until I’m 50. It makes it even more clear that every time I do Kona, it could be the last.”
What’s next for Jan Frodeno?
Frodeno might now be in his forties, but as that record-smashing performance at the Zwift Tri Battle Royale showed, he’s still at the peak of his powers, yet to be cast into shade by whoever’s going to inherit his mantle.
Currently tying with Craig Alexander when it comes to world titles won (they’ve won three apiece, so are still well behind six-time champions Dave Scott and Mark Allen), Frodeno would love to make that spot his own.
Thanks to the pandemic, there are two Ironman world championships in 2022, but Frodeno has since dropped out of the first. All eyes turn to Kona, then, to see if he can cement his formidable reputation even further.
Top image credit: Joern Pollex/Getty Images for Ironman