Van Collides with Pro Matt Russell at Ironman World Championship

What we know about the collision.

Pro triathlete Matthew Russell struck a van about four hours into Ironman Kona on Saturday, suffering serious injuries including a concussion and a laceration to the neck. He was brought to North Hawaii Community Hospital in serious condition, and is now expected to recover. This is what happened, from fellow pro Jesse Thomas’ eye-witness account, as well as accounts shared with local news West Hawaii Today.

Russell was riding just ahead of Jesse Thomas as the two men hammered back toward Kona through Waikoloa Village, a section of the infamous Queen K highway with a good tailwind. Ironman’s live tracking system pegged the two of them going nearly 28 miles per hour at the 76-mile mark, the last timing station they both rode through before the collision.

A truck had been allowed to cross the Queen K on Waikoloa Road, and a van tried to squeeze in behind the truck. It’s unclear whether a volunteer or officer directing traffic allowed the van to go, or if he decided to try to get through on his own. The accident is currently under investigation.

“Matt saw it, sat up, and had like a second to hit the brakes. He slid full speed into the side of the van,” says Thomas, who was riding behind him not much more than the legal drafting distance of 12 meters. Thomas swerved to the left and estimates he missed the front of the van by two feet. “It looked like his bike exploded,” Thomas says. “It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. The images are emblazoned in my brain.”

The large crowd of fans in the area immediately tended to Russell, and Thomas continued with his race. West Hawaii Today spoke with a spectator named Janey Brink who corroborated Thomas’ account, saying that the cyclist was going full speed when the vehicle pulled in front of him in the intersection. “I’ve never seen a body go through what his body went through,” Brink told WHT. “He came out of his clips.”

West Hawaii Today further reported that officials asked spectators to stay around to talk to them about the crash. “No one ever came to talk to us and we stayed for a long time,” Brink told WHT. “We couldn’t understand why cars in that intersection were still moving.”

Russell was wearing bib number 17. This was his sixth time racing the Ironman World Championship. The 34-year old has raced more than 45 Ironmans, notably winning Ironman Canada in 2012. He currently lives in Sarasota, Fla. with his wife and infant son, Makaio.

His wife, Gillian, issued the following statement to Triathlete on the afternoon of Monday, Oct. 16:

At this time, Matt remains in the hospital and he is getting the care he desperately needs.

Since the accident, Matt has had multiple procedures and surgeries to address the life threatening injuries he suffered Saturday.

While Matt Is resting more comfortably than yesterday we are not out of the woods yet as Matt’s doctors remain concerned with the magnitude and severity of his concussion and vascular injuries.  

Matt loves to race and I know he will want to get back to it when he’s able. However, it’s way to early to know if and when that may happen.  

At this point we just want Matt home.  Home with me and his newborn son – it’s going to take months of intense rehab to get him prepared for everyday life – and frankly the sooner we can get started the better.

We reached out to Ironman for comment. Below is Ironman’s statement, sent the evening of the race:

We can confirm that professional triathlete Matt Russell (BIB #17) was in an accident while on the bike portion of today’s IRONMAN World Championship. He suffered serious injuries that required transport to a local hospital where he is currently being treated. Our thoughts are with Matt and his family during this difficult time and we wish him a full and speedy recovery.

The collision was one of several that occurred during the week of the Ironman World Championship—not just this year, but in recent years as well—leading athletes and spectators to question whether enough is being done to protect cyclists in the area, both during Kona week and beyond. Ironman-distance record holder, Tim Don, was struck by a car on a training ride on Oct. 12. The collision fractured his C2 vertabrae, leaving him unable to compete in this year’s event. He told fans about the crash in an Instagram post and is expected to make a full recovery.

A YouCaring page has been set up to help Russell and his family with medical costs.