From the spectacle of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow to the unfolding narrative of ITU World Series, the iconic setting of Hawaii to money-spinning developments in the Middle East, this year has again showcased the rich tapestry of professional triathlon.
With a variety formats and distances, picking the most standout performers will always be contentious, but it hasn’t stopped 220 columnist Tim Heming counting down his top 10 men and women for 2014.
Here he starts with the chaps. Agree or disagree let us know in the comments
10. Marc Austin
Best result: Second, ITU under-23 World Championships
There might be a bit of British bias here but Team GB delivered a flurry of strong male performances which, due to the continued success of the Brownlees, didn’t get the recognition they deserved. Aaron Harris and Adam Bowden both had two top-10 finishes in the World Series, with Harris also sixth in the Commonwealth Games. Scotland’s Grant Sheldon also regularly placed in the top 15, but it was his Stirling team-mate Marc Austin who most caught the eye.
In front of the BBC cameras, the 20-year-old produced a gutsy effort in Glasgow to form a three-man breakaway on the bike with the Brownlees, helping secure a race-winning gap for the brothers before spectacularly imploding. He recovered in style for the world under-23 final in Edmonton where he finished second to France’s Dorian Coninx, repeating the order of last year’s World Junior Championships in London.
9. Ben Hoffman
Best result: Second, Ironman World Championships
Of all the big-hitters, Olympic medal winners like Jan Frodeno and Bevan Docherty, or ITU world champions like Ivan Rana, or Ironman winners like Freddie van Lierde and Craig Alexander, it was unheralded American Ben Hoffman who fought his way through the lava fields to finish runner-up in Hawaii. The Colorado triathlete posted a 2:43 marathon in Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June despite crashing on the bike, but his best result in Kona was a low-key 15th last year, so there was little indication of what was to come.
Yet with much of the home focus on Tim O’Donnell and Andy Potts, Hoffman played it smart. He shadowed the ever-consistent Van Lierde on the swim and bike and ran through to second with a 8:19 finish. Just 31, if Hoffman can build on this performance he could yet hand the stars and stripes a first male winner since Tim DeBoom in 2002.
8. Mario Mola
Best result: Winner, ITU World Series London
The young Spanish pretender could hardly have had a better mentor than Javier Gomez and is really blossoming under coach Joel Filliol, alongside South Africa’s Commonwealth bronze medallist Richard Murray. Like Murray, Mola’s weakness is the swim, which means on a tough course he can become alienated, but if in contention come the start of the run then he is a proven threat.
Mola was sharp from the start this year with wins in Mooloolaba and New Plymouth, and was never out of the top 10 in the World Series, taking his first victory in London in May, and climaxing with a second place in the Grand Final in Edmonton. It was in Canada he posted the fastest run split of 29:49 – the sort of time that makes him a very real threat for honours in both 2015 and the Rio Olympics the following year.
7. Tim Don
Best result: Third, Ironman 70.3 World Championships
Don’s transition from three-time Olympian, draft-legal peloton biker and lung-busting runner to powerful diesel engine is almost complete. The 220 columnist started the year with twin goals of making an impact in high-profile middle distance races and ticking the boxes for a smooth qualification for the Ironman World Championships in 2015. From his Boulder base in Colorado he achieved both.
Wins at 70.3 races in Monterrey and Brasilia, and thirds in both the Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in Utah and 70.3 Worlds in Mont-Tremblant against two of the most competitive fields of the year were standout results. Don even summoned enough energy to finish fourth in the season-ending Challenge Bahrain, and with a debut Ironman victory in Mallorca sandwiched in between, he can now pick and choose his route to an assault on the Big Island.
6. Michael Raelert
Best result: Winner,Challenge Bahrain
Despite being the 2009 and 2010 World Ironman 70.3 champion, Raelert’s exploits have been overshadowed by his older brother for the past four years. Whilst Andreas has been enduring a series of near misses in Kona and setting the fastest-ever iron-distance time in Roth, 34-year-old Michael has battled injury, his occasional attempts at stepping up to Ironman unbefitting for his undoubted talent. Yet returning in the latter half of 2014 to pick up wins in Germany, Miami, Ballarat and Mandurah, the Rostock triathlete looked back in the form that led him setting a world best 3:34hrs for this distance in Clearwater in 2009.
A $100,000 cheque followed when he won the inaugural Challenge Bahrain, unleashing a devastating 70min half-marathon. A few years back sponsor K-Swiss had a million dollars on the line if Andreas and Michael delivered a one-two in Kona. It doesn’t look like happening but with the $1million prize purse on offer for next year’s Triple Crown of middle distance racing in the Middle East, he may not need to step up at all.
5. Jonny Brownlee
Best result: Silver medal, Commonwealth Games
Such is the consistency of Jonny Brownlee that 2014 will be reflected on with a degree of disappointment. His reputation as the ‘nearly’ man of triathlon was compounded with a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games, as big brother Alistair showed he still had the performance edge.
There was the consolation of mixed relay gold, but having been pipped on the line by Javier Gomez in the 2013 World Series Grand Final, he once again lost out to the Spaniard in the final skirmishes, and struggling with a stomach bug in Edmonton he even slipped behind Mario Mola on the overall rostrum. Brownlee junior also saw his remarkable record of 49 consecutive podiums stretching back to 2010 disappear in Japan with the continued emergence of Mario Mola and South Africa’s Richard Murray. Yet despite all this he still makes the top 10 here and will not be stood on a starting pontoon from here to Rio without being short odds for the win.
4. Jan Frodeno
Best result: Third, Ironman World Championships
The first male Olympic champion to step up for a competitive tilt at longer distance racing, the rangy German was always likely to be a threat on the Ironman circuit and so it proved. Starting with a win in the Auckland 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship, his Ironman debut in the European championships in Frankfurt resulted in multiple punctures and cramp on the run but still a third place finished behind reigning Ironman champion Freddie van Lierde and soon-to-be-successor Sebastian Kienle.
Only Javier Gomez’s 69min half-marathon could stave off Frodeno in the 70.3 Worlds in Mont-Tremblant, before he arrived in Kona set on being the first male debut winner since Luc van Lierde in 1996. Those intentions were made clear as he jostled with Andy Potts to be first out of the water, before suffering more puncture issues and eventually finishing third. Frodeno wisely skipped the big money lure of Bahrain, and with a year’s experience will be a strong favourite heading to the Big Island in 2015.
3. Alistair Brownlee
Best result: Gold medal, Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow was always the number one objective and had Alistair been offered the pick of a victory at just one other race, he’d have probably opted for the ITU Grand Final in Edmonton. Given he won both, plus another gold in the mixed relay in Strathclyde Park, and a third European title in Kitzbuhel, means another impressive year from arguably Britain’s top endurance athlete.
There will be some chagrin in having not won the ITU world title since 2011, but persistent Achilles niggles make the multi-race World Series format from March to September a tough challenge. There will be 10 top-level events on the ITU calendar in 2015 plus an Olympic test event trip to Rio; the Brownlees don’t have to race all of them but with qualification for Brazil now underway, it will be interesting to see the approach.
2. Sebastian Kienle
In the past two years Kienle has arrived in Hawaii in stellar form, ready to unleash his biking prowess on the Big Island having swept all before him in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas. This year it was different. Defending his 70.3 crown in Mont-Tremblant he trailed in 18th, over 12mins behind winner Javier Gomez. Having failed to surge through from his typically sluggish swim, Kienle was never in the race.
Things got worse in the weeks before Hawaii and tears of frustration spilled as a lingering run injury threatened his place on the start line. Yet come race day it went almost perfectly. After working with compatriot Maik Twelsiek to fly past the speedline of professionals on the Queen K, Kienle was never caught and a 4:20 bike split was backed up with a 2:54 marathon to deliver his first Ironman world title and a few unpublishable quotes.
1. Javier Gomez
Spain’s sportsman of the year and the most consistent triathlete of his generation, Gomez once again proved when it comes to planning the perfect season he rarely makes a mistake. Starting the ITU World Series in superb fashion with wins in Auckland, Cape Town and Yokohama, by the time the Brownlees were hitting form in mid-summer he already had the defence of his title under control.
It meant come the Grand Final in Edmonton, Gomez just needed to track an (admittedly off-colour) Jonny Brownlee to equal Simon Lessing’s ITU record of four world titles. But it didn’t end there. The following weekend he headed off the Mont-Tremblant and won the Ironman World 70.3 championships by holding off Jan Frodeno on the run for an unprecedented double.