Best Ironman results: 2 x Ironman 70.3 world champs (2017 and 2014) and 3rd place in 2018; 2nd Ironman Cairns 2018
While Olympic gold was the one that got away, a record five ITU World Championship titles, a growing number of 70.3 victories and the 2012 Xterra World Championships make Javier Gomez one of the most decorated triathletes to have ever lived.
The Spaniard’s Ironman debut was arguably the most long-awaited in history, where Gomez finished 2nd at Ironman Cairns in June of this year. That assured performance cemented a qualification for the Ironman Worlds in Hawaii, where Gomez will make his long-awaited Kona bow in October and face his former ITU nemesis Jan Frodeno.
Over to six-time Hawaii champ Dave Scott for this one. “Javier is just solid; his biomechanics are great and everything is aligned. People see their running efficiency breaking down during the half-marathon run at a 70.3 event but he’s solid all the way through. He ran a 1:09hr half marathon at a smashingly difficult course at 70.3 Mont Tremblant. He’s got a sturdy body for Kona and he seemingly doesn’t have a weakness in all three disciplines.”
That lack of a weakness extended to the Spaniard’s full Ironman debut, with the event witnessing Gomez break the 8hr barrier in the process following a race best 46:42min swim, a 4:25:09 bike and a 2:41hr marathon run.
Gomez is hugely versatile, stays largely injury free and seems to have the optimum build and biomechanics for Ironman. So he seems to lack an obvious weakness. But much will depend on whether he can rise to the challenge on the major occasions and outgun those on the world’s Ironman start lines.
Patrick Lange is four years younger and already has the Hawaii course record under his belt; Jan Frodeno (who convincingly beat Gomez at the 2008 Olympics and the 70.3 Worlds in 2015 and 2018) is still hungry to add his Kona tally and there are more experienced – yet younger – Ironman athletes in the form of David McNamee, Lionel Sanders and Seb Kienle that are all formidable opponents.
And the 226km battles will continue when Alistair Brownlee finally steps up to the full Ironman plate, with Gomez’s record against Brownlee in ITU racing reading 21-7 in the Yorkshireman’s favour.
He has the build, consistency and technique to become the next superstar of Ironman. But can he beat the very best on the very biggest of occasions?
Will he, won’t he? If we had a pound every time someone asked us when Alistair Brownlee will race full Ironman, we probably could’ve paid off our student loan. And while he seems to enjoy keeping us all on our toes with his Ironman racing schedule (his name was actually on the start list for Ironman UK at Bolton in 2017), it seems likely that Alistair wants to have a final fling with the Olympics at Tokyo in 2020 before finally making the move to full Ironman.
Where to start? Alistair Brownlee is surely the greatest short-course triathlete who ever lived, with a record two Olympic Games gold medals, two ITU World Championships and three European Championships. His ITU head-to-head record over Javier Gomez reads as a commanding 21 versus seven and he’s won 22 of the 36 ITU races he’s entered to show, when he’s fit, that few can touch him.
His start in Ironman 70.3/Challenge Half racing, although fitful, has shown enough promise to give a few sleepless nights to the long-course fraternity. He was dominant in victory at Challenge Gran Canaria and smashed the course record (and a field containing Sebastian Kienle) at Ironman 70.3 St. George in 2017 with a 3:41:58 overall split.
And 2018 has also witnessed a victory at Ironman 70.3s in Liuzhou and Dubai, the latter after a 1.9km swim of 22:36, a 90km bike of 1:58:51 and a half-marathon run of 1:09:36 to produce a 3:35:32 overall time that’s just a minute slower than Michael Raelert’s Ironman 70.3 record time of 3:34:04 from Clearwater in 2014.
Brownlee’s move into Ironman is a huge leap into the unknown for multiple reasons. How will the Yorkshireman deal with racing in the heat and humidity of Hawaii for eight hours? Will he master a nutritional strategy for long-course racing? And will he stick with the coaches and support staff who have helped his towering ITU career or move to Boulder and train with the likes of Dave Scott?
There’s also a career of a former Brit ITU superstar who dominated short-course tri before moving into Ironman that Brownlee would be wise to pay attention to. In 2002, Simon Lessing made the move into long-distance after a thoroughly miserable time at the Commonwealth Games. Lessing, with four ITU World Championships to his name, had been the dominant force in ITU racing during the nineties and was expected to dominate long-course racing. And yet, a course record at Lake Placid aside, it never quite clicked for Lessing in Ironman, with gut problems, a chronic spinal disc herniation and ‘hamstrings as stiff as steel rods’ all cited as reasons for his relative lack of progress.
The similarities with Brownlee are hard to ignore, and Alistair’s injury record, which has seen him experience hip surgery in recent times, looms large over any attempts to make a successful move into Ironman.
Brownlee has the ability to do pretty much what he wants in triathlon and end up the victor. Seeing him take on Gomez, Lange and McNamee in 2021 will surely be one of the most fascinating stories in Kona’s 40+ year history if it comes to pass.
Yet sport is a fickle beast, and will Brownlee’s injury history and the wear and tear of 20+ years of racing and training hard in triathlon count against him? We sincerely hope not.
Best Ironman result: 2nd, Ironman European Championships 2018
Where many athletes deliver a stream of clichés and platitudes in their post-race interviews, Sarah True (née Groff) has always been a journalist’s dream. She’s genuinely funny, self-deprecating and insightful, and was one of the biggest personalities on the ITU circuit. We say that in the past tense because True’s permanent move to Ironman now seems confirmed after a sensational debut full Ironman at July’s Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt, which saw her finish in second place behind the multiple Ironman World Champion, Daniela Ryf.
“I did an Ironman and I think I liked it,” was the two-time Olympian’s understated post-race verdict. The race saw her lead the way out of the water in 53:09 and post the day’s fastest marathon (an impressive 2:54:58), but the 36-year-old American lost half an hour to Ryf on the bike leg to produce a silver in 9:05:19.
Either side of an ITU career that witnessed her win the 2007 Aquathlon World Championships, finish fourth at the 2012 London Olympics and second in the 2014 ITU World Triathlon Series, True has already put down middle-distance markers. She finished third at the middle-distance Spirit of Racine Triathlon back in 2006, before claiming victory at Ironman 70.3 Austin, and second at 70.3s in Chattanooga and Edinburgh all in 2017. True, whose background in is swimming, also finished fourth at the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in 2017 after producing the third fastest swim of the day. Her bike time was 10mins slower than Ryf, which was also the margin between Ryf’s winning time and True’s finish of 4:20:40.
Her formidable swim and run powers, which produced both the fastest swim and run splits at the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt. She also has bags of personality and mental resolve, as evidenced in her heroic attempts to finish the 2016 Olympic Games event in Rio after suffering severe cramps and crashing.
True is smart enough to know that her bike needs huge improvements if she’s to give herself a shot of tracking Ryf down on the run. Her Frankfurt split was 30mins down on Ryf, and she’ll need to at least halve that deficit if she’s going to get within touching distance at the business end of the run.
At 36, True is five years older than Ryf and just a year younger than relative iron veteran Mirinda Carfrae. So an extended long-distance career isn’t in the offing. But if anyone has the mental strength to succeed in Ironman, it’s True. Much then will depend on how much she can improve that 180km bike split.
Best Ironman results: 1st, Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote 2017, Ironman 70.3 Dubai and Oceanside 2018; 4th Ironman Frankfurt 2018; 3rd Ironman 70.3 World Championships 2018
Half a decade ago, Anne Haug was one of the most consistently strong athletes on the ITU circuit. The German won the Grand Final in 2012 to finish second overall in the WTS standings and followed that with two WTS wins and five podiums in 2013.
A stress fracture in her hip in both 2014 and 2017 put paid to the German’s winning-WTS form, and she contemplated quitting the sport for good. But she’s since become a 70.3 powerhouse and is arguably the most feared athlete on the half-marathon run. Like True, Haug made her full-distance debut at Ironman Frankfurt in 2018, where the German finished just off the podium after an overall time of 9:14:06 following a 56:28 swim, 5:08:08 bike and 3:04:32 marathon run.
That run leg. She posted three victories and one second place in her first four Ironman 70.3 races following consistently-brilliant half-marathon splits of 1:18:14, 1:17:27, 1:14:11 and 1:16:24, beating the likes of Daniela Ryf, Lucy Charles and Holly Lawrence in the process. Her 70.3 Oceanside time of 4:12:03 was also one of the fastest overall female splits in middle-distance history. She’s also coached by Dan Lorang, a man who knows a thing or two about converting ITU athletes into Ironman greats (see also Jan Frodeno).
Having long spent her ITU days chasing the first pack of bikers, Haug knows it’s her first discipline that needs attention. “My swim just isn’t good enough,” she told Slowtwitch’s Timothy Carlson in 2018. “I taught myself swimming when I was 20 years old via YouTube videos and by watching others.” Also like True, she’s older than most of her M-Dot rivals, and Hawaii (unless you’re Chrissie Wellington) is almost always a tough nut to crack at the first attempt.
Haug doesn’t have time on her side for an extended Ironman career, and the young stars such as Lucy Charles already have Kona experience in their racing arsenal. But seeing Haug tear up the Energy Lab and the Queen K come October will send a shiver of fear into every woman on that run course.
Best Ironman results: Ironman 70.3 Barcelona (x2); 3rd Ironman Austria 2018
Coached by Michelle Dillon since her move to multisport half a decade ago, Emma Pallant has made great strides since hanging up the track shoes for a tri-suit. There’s barely been a national short-course championships she hasn’t podiumed at or won since 2013, and there have been a glut of aquathlon and duathlon world titles as well. She’s since moved into Ironman and 70.3 racing, scoring 70.3 victories in Barcelona, Weymouth, Staffordshire and Mallorca, as well as a silver at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga.
After her full Ironman debut produced a DNF in South Africa in April, she returned to take on Ironman Austria in July and finished third after leading on the run. Her time was 9:03:59.
As a former track runner, Pallant’s run talent is obvious. She produced the day’s best half-marathon split of 1:19hrs in Chattanooga (3mins faster than Sarah True) and her Ironman debut in Austria saw her take the battle to the leaders on the run until the last 8km. She’s also backed by the unique (in triathlon) support network of Team BMC-Vifit, complete with mechanics, physios, a salary and athletes of the calibre of Will Clarke to train with.
Her swim has improved massively and she came out of the water fourth in Austria, so that no longer seems a weakness. There’s the knee injury that effectively ended her athletics career, but perhaps it’s her nomadic career – where she’s dabbled in everything from standalone track running events to short-course tri, aquathlon and duathlon – that suggests a lack of sticking power. Now, then, is surely the time for Pallant to focus on one specific goal: Ironman domination.
With BMC and Dillon (not forgetting Olympian Stuart Hayes) behind her, the headstrong Pallant has the backing in place to make serious strides in Ironman. She also has time on her side and a run the envy of the majority of her competitors. It certainly won’t be dull watching this tenacious character upset the established order in Hawaii.