Kristian Blummenfelt became the first triathlete to hold both the Olympic and Ironman world titles simultaneously as he charged to victory in St George in an enthralling contest.
In an historic performance, the Norwegian also became the first male triathlete to win on debut since Belgium’s Luc van Lierde in 1996, taking the tape in 7:49:16 with a 2:38:01 marathon. It was also only his second full distance event, having clocked a world best 7:21:11 in Cozumel in November.
It was the first time the race had moved from the Big Island of Hawaii, and despite numerous withdrawals including reigning champion Jan Frodeno, Britain’s Alistair Brownlee and Blummenfelt’s training partner Gustav Iden, it lived up to expectations.
The 28-year-old took the lead for the first time with nine miles to go on the marathon, breezing past New Zealand’s Braden Currie through an aid station.
Currie was then overtaken in the final few hundred metres, hunted down by Canadian Lionel Sanders with the finish line almost in sight.
The best placed Brit was David McNamee as he tried to follow the script from 2017 and 2018, when he ran through the field on the second-half of the marathon to earn a spot on the podium. On this occasion a 2:46:10 run leg was good enough to climb to ninth. Sebastian Kienle, in his final year of world championship racing, finished 14th.
A Danish assault on the swim
As is typical of Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic champion was bullish going into the event in Utah, but concerns had been raised when illness in his training group forced Iden to withdraw just days before the start.
Shorn of Australian Josh Amberger, Britain’s Brownlee and defending champion Frodeno, there were no obvious candidates to lead the men’s wetsuit-mandatory swim in the Sand Hollow reservoir.
But Dane Daniel Baekkegard showed his commitment by breaking up the field, with France’s Sam Laidlow in close contention. McNamee swam solidly to enter T1 in seventh, with pre-race favourite Blummenfelt 2min 10sec adrift.
Wurf puts the power down
In the shake-up leaving T1 three more men eventually got away with Baekkegard and Laidlow, including Currie, fellow Kiwi Kyle Smith, and Germany’s Florian Angert.
Behind them it was Cam Wurf who was fastest on course. The Ineos Grenadiers cyclist who has been racing the cycling classics in Europe – and recently helped his tour team to victory at Paris-Roubaix – found enough of a gap in his schedule to head to Utah and seemed determined to make the most of it.
Wurf worked his way to the front of the chasers, picking up Blummenfelt along the way, with US hope Sam Long – who was hit by a car in the week leading into the race – for company and a further five in the pace line.
Sanders was building into the race, but remained a threat, as did 2014 winner Kienle, the only Ironman world champion in the field.
Running down the leaders
The front five stayed clear to reach T2 together, followed by Wurf, Sanders and Blummenfelt. Wurf set the day’s fastest split (4:15:44) but only a handful of seconds faster than the leaders. The important statistic was the gap – 4min 19sec, with Long and compatriot Chris Leiferman a further 2mins back.
Currie, who had finished fifth and seventh previously at Kona, came past Smith just shy of four miles into the marathon, passing his fellow Kiwi with a fist bump.
He held the lead for the next 12 miles, but had no answer to Blummenfelt, who was not only a worthy champion, but looks in fine fettle ahead of his assault on the Sub7 project in a month’s time.
Top image credit: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images for Ironman