Joe Skipper: If the Norwegians don’t win it’s a failure

Great Britain’s leading Ironman World Championship contender believes the pressure is all on his rivals ahead of Saturday’s showdown in Kona

Joe Skipper of Britain celebrates winning Ironman UK on July 15, 2018 in Bolton, England

Norfolk’s Joe Skipper is looking lean and talking mean as he attempts to become the first British male triathlete to win the Ironman World Championship.

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The 34-year-old has shed a huge 5kg ahead of the race as he prepares to do battle with arch nemeses Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden – and says the pressure is all on the Norwegian superstars.

“For them it’s win or bust,” Skipper explained. “They’ve come here to win and then they’re going back to short course. If they don’t win it’s a failure.”

The GB ace is referencing the Bergen athletes’ intentions to re-focus on Olympic distance for Paris 2024 after Saturday’s race in Hawaii as Blummenfelt looks to defend the title he won in Tokyo last year.

I’d like to see Patrick in the lead swim group. That would put pressure on the Norwegians. They’d be screaming at me to pull a turn but I’d say: ‘It’s your race to lose boys’

Blummenfelt and Iden start the race as favourites, but Skipper argues that this puts the onus on them to make the bike leg tough enough to stop gun runners such as Germany’s Patrick Lange staying within striking distance.

“I’d like to see Patrick in the lead group on the swim,” Skipper explained. “That would put pressure on the Norwegians.

“They’d be screaming at me to pull a turn [on the bike] but I’d say: ‘It’s your race to lose boys.’

“Hopefully they’ll tire themselves out and then I can capitalise and potentially put a dig in at the end of the bike. Or if they’re fatigued, I’ll run better.

“My best result is sixth, so if I finish third it’s still better than I’ve ever done. I’m going to turn the psychology against them.”

The men’s marathon record will definitely go

Will we see records fall in Kona?

If Skipper is going to place better than he’s ever done, he may also need to race faster than anyone has ever done on the Big Island, and believes records are set tumble.

“The men’s marathon record [Lange’s 2:39:45] will definitely go,” he added. “I rode 165km ride on the course and then ran 8km at 3min 30sec per km pace in training.

“It felt comfortable in the heat of the day on the Queen K. I won’t run that in the race, but I think I can run 2:39.”

He believes the overall finish time will be around 7:45. It would be the fourth successive time the course record has been lowered and would take a chunk out of Jan Frodeno’s 7:52:13 course record from 2019.

“I’d say a 50min swim, 4hr 10min on the bike and then a 2hr 40min run with 5min for transitions – or faster – is what it will take to win the race.

“That’s assuming we have the same conditions as 2018 and 2019. If it’s a terrible day it’ll be slower, but I’ve been 8:03 on this course. With my current fitness, I’d say I can go sub 7:50.”

Is Skipper the one to watch?

Joe Skipper exits the swim of Ironman Wales on 11 September, 2022. (Credit: Huw Fairclough/Getty Images)

Skipper is certainly coming in hot. After an extended training camp at altitude in Font-Romeu he returned to the UK to put in an eye-opening performance at the notoriously tough Ironman Wales, smashing the course record and running a 2:37 marathon despite spending 15mins at the side of the road with a mechanical.

He was also looking leaner than at any time in his professional career. “I normally weigh around 80kg so I’m always going to get hotter than other people. It’s just the science,” Skipper explained.

“But I’ve lost a lot of weight – around 5kg – for this race, concentrating on my diet and eating well.

“I think that’s why I ran well in Wales, I’ve been doing sessions out here in the heat that I couldn’t do before, so it points to a good position.”

Having missed the year’s first Ironman World Championship in St George after contracting Covid, the race in Kona has long been Skipper’s No 1 objective for the season.

“I was married on July 2nd and we wanted to go on a mini-moon, so I decided to build up for October and extend the season.

“The season is so long now, you don’t really need to race in June and July. It gave me time to get a decent training block in, instead of racing for the sake of racing. I’m all in for Kona and if I feel good I’ll do another one afterwards.”

Rising costs of Kona

Skipper also has somewhere to stay, having raised the alarm that he might not be travelling at all due to the soaring prices of accommodation.

“I never said I definitely wasn’t coming to Kona. I just posed the question: Are other pro athletes contemplating it? to get some discussion going.

“The prices were absolutely ridiculous. Up to $1,100 a night. People were renting out 20-year-old estate cars with a bed in the back for $200 a night.

“The car would probably sell for about £1,500 in the UK, but it cost more to sleep in it for 10 days here!”

“Experience is key”

Having raced here four times previously, he also has one final shot across the bows for the Norwegians who are making their debuts… and believe they have the upper hand because of it.

“Experience is a big thing. I remember when Javier Gomez was here for the first time and was going to win it easily. He was walking on the Queen K.

“In 2019, Ali Brownlee was in great form and was a favourite to win. It was supposed to be another Iron War between Jan [Frodeno] and Alistair, but Ali walked the Queen K.

“You’ve got to respect this race. I know in other years I thought I’d run well but it  hasn’t turned out that way. This race can bite you.”

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Top image credit: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images for Ironman