Can anyone beat Blummenfelt in Kona?

Reigning Ironman world champion Kristian Blummenfelt heads to Hawaii as the outright favourite for the men’s title. But the Big Island and his rivals might have other ideas

kristian blummenfelt crossing line of ironman world champs 2021

Ironman world champion, Olympic champion, World Triathlon champion and the fastest triathlete ever over the iron distance – Kristian Blummenfelt isn’t just tearing up racecourses, but the record books as well.

Advertisement

The Professional Triathletes Organisation’s No. 1 ranked performer has also got the fastest time ever posted in an Ironman – 7:21:11 set on his Cozumel debut last year – so the question: Can anyone beat him in Kona? looks a simple one to answer. A resounding ‘no’.

But before we jump completely aboard the Norwegian hype train, when we start unpicking how Hawaiian goddess Madame Pele treats her guests when they first race on the Big Island, there’s always a chance a Big Blu gets caught in the literal and metaphorical crosswinds.

Kona is no respecter of reputation. In previous years it has chewed up and spat out the likes of Alistair Brownlee, Javier Gomez and other stars whose reputation has been built in short course and thought they could step up to the 140.6-mile distance.

Handling the heat

Belgium’s Luc van Zierde (left) celebrates victory at the 1996 Ironman World Champs with runner-up Thomas Hellrigel of Germany. (Credit: Lutz Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images)

In fact, it’s not since Luc Van Lierde in 1996 that a Kona debutant has won the men’s race. One element you cannot buy – no matter how much lactate testing you do – is experience on the Big Island.

Granted, the counterpoint is that Blummenfelt is a different breed, an athlete who has already won the Ironman World Championship on debut in St George, Utah in May.

The 28-year-old also doesn’t, at 5ft 7in, have the physique of a front row rugby prop that some seem to believe, and so far hasn’t seemed to be challenged by the heat and humidity that has proved the nemesis of many.

Having overcome oppressive conditions to win in Tokyo last summer, the Norwegian’s protocols for tackling extreme conditions have already been tried and tested – the translucent Trimtex kit the clearest example of innovation developed to help prevent overheating.

Does Blummenfelt have a weakness?

Trying to find a chink in his armour is a challenge. Blummenfelt’s swim is not up there with the very best in the sport, but it’s not as critical in Ironman racing.

He’ll also be helped by the majority of strong cyclists in Kona – the likes of Cam Wurf, Lionel Sanders, Magnus Ditlev and Sebastian Kienle – emerging from the water after him, lessening the threat of a pace-line getting away at the front, but helping him pull back any arrears.

Blummenfelt doesn’t have to worry about the injured Jan Frodeno or Brownlee disappearing up the road, and although Kiwis Braden Currie and Kyle Smith, German Florian Angert and Dane Daniel Baekkegard did a good job of it in St George, whether that’s enough firepower to stay far enough clear for 112 miles in Kona is questionable.

As per St George, Blummenfelt’s ability to still be in contention come T2 is clear, and from there it’s down to a gruelling marathon out into the lava fields and the perils of the natural energy lab. Blummenfelt’s two Ironman marathons have been 2:35hrs in Cozumel and 2:38hrs in St George.

For good measure we can add the 2:30hr split he posted in the Phoenix Foundation’s Sub7 Project in June. No-one has ever run those times in Hawaii – it remains to be seen if anyone can. It’s fair to say that conditions dependent, Blummenfelt might.

So, who could beat Blummenfelt?

Gustav Iden wins the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St George, Utah. (Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images for Ironman)

The most obvious candidate is compatriot and training partner Gustav Iden. Iden is another IM novice, who posted a 7:42:56 debut in Florida last year and then missed the St George world championship through illness. The pair have never raced each other over the full distance.

The 2017 and 2018 champion Patrick Lange is a threat if he’s still in contention heading out on to the run. Britain’s Joe Skipper, sixth in 2019, showed his form with a recent eight-minute victory in Ironman Wales.

Sanders and Currie, second and third respectively in St George, are both tough customers and shouldn’t be disregarded, and don’t rule out this year’s Challenge Roth winner, the quietly spoken but giant presence of 6ft 5in Dane Ditlev.

To see others who could also contend have a read of our pre-race preview and predictions, but there’s no doubt that when the gun goes come Saturday, 9 October, this one is Blu’s to lose.

Advertisement

Top image credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Ironman